As of Friday afternoon, there was no potable water source for Palmetto Health Baptist, a 400-bed community hospital, or Palmetto Health Richland, a major 649-bed academic trauma hospital.
Staff are using bottled or sterile water for drinking and washing their hands, and non-potable water for operating chillers and boilers, and even for operating MRIs or CT scanners, which require water for cooling, said John Singerling, president of Palmetto Health in Columbia, S.C., one of the hardest hit areas in South Carolina.
The state was recently ravaged by storms and massive flooding.
Hospital officials say conditions are improving, but problems persist.
“We've been involved with power outages, but when you lose your primary water source, or if you have an unstable water source, it puts you in an immediately difficult position,” Singerling said.
Over the weekend, fire trucks regularly came to the system's hospitals to drop off non-potable water for equipment. Officials expect to have a potable water source at both campuses by Oct. 11 and to be back to full operations by Monday. The South Carolina National Guard also has provided water purification units.
“The outpouring of support from really all across the country has really been incredible,” Singerling said. “Everyone wants to make sure the needs of their first responders and healthcare facilities are met.”
Singerling said both hospitals have had to shut down their water systems to be chlorinated and decontaminated to prepare for clean water from the portable purification units.
Staff at Palmetto hospitals were asked to bunk at the hospital through the storms. Some staff worked extra hours to make up for employees who couldn't get to work, while others were retrieved by fire personnel in boats.
“I could not be more proud of the caregivers of Palmetto Health and the first responders in our community,” Singerling said.
Staff at Tidelands Georgetown (S.C.) Memorial Hospital and Tidelands Waccamaw Community Hospital in Murrells Inlet, S.C., went above and beyond to get to work, said Bruce Bailey, president and CEO of Tidelands Health. Many staff carpooled and one even kayaked to her parked car.
The older Georgetown hospital is closer to the coast and has been the hardest hit of the system's two hospitals, as floodwater makes its way to the Atlantic Ocean. Bailey said the hospitals will now have to deal with pent-up demand caused by the hospitals' scaled-back operations over the past week.
“We've tried to divert some patients if we felt it was in the best interest, but overall we have felt we have been able to provide services to this community,” Bailey said.
Kim Jolly, chief nursing officer at the 81-bed, single-hospital Clarendon Health System in Manning, S.C., said dialysis patients were advised by closed clinics to come to the hospital's emergency room, which has had to help locate centers with potable water and arrange transport of the patients to those centers. She said the hospital is slowly and tiredly getting back to normal operations, with an eye out for potential rain that has been forecast in the coming days.
“We're getting there,” Jolly said. “As close to normal as you can and everyone is hoping tomorrow isn't too much.”
Most officials reported only leaks and minor water damage to their facilities. Hospital officials said they had some issues with getting supplies from distributors who were slowed by the closed interstate, though most systems were either able to make alternative plans or had stockpiled supplies ahead of time.
Henry Schein, a Melville, N.Y.-based distributor, has a year-round disaster relief hotline that helps customers dealing with supply issues. A spokeswoman for Premier, the Charlotte, N.C.-based group purchasing and performance improvement company, said it put a preparedness plan into effect along with an after-hours hotline, but its members haven't yet been in need of major assistance.