UPDATE - 9/14, 11:15 AM: Erlanger Hospital confirms their North campus is maintaining "good levels of water," along with their locations in downtown Chattanooga.
9/13, 6:00 PM: CHI Memorial Hospital confirms it has running water, as do most of the Erlanger locations outside of the North campus.
This is why COO Anthony Houston says they're still taking precautions to conserve water, including only performing emergency surgeries.
“As the extent and the duration of the water main break became apparent, we accelerated our plans," Houston said.
Houston says their air conditioning system runs completely on water, so without it, operations can't happen.
“When we lose water, we will lose our air conditioning -- and that means our operating rooms will be really warm, thus increasing risk of infection," Houston says.
CHI memorial has taken action in other areas too, including delaying showers, turning off ice machines and coffee makers.
Houston says they have stores of water as a backup plan if necessary - but they hope it won’t get to that point.
Houston stresses for visitors, who come to see loved ones, to stay home until this whole situation is resolved -- unless it’s an emergency.
Hospitals in downtown Chattanooga worked quickly Friday morning to adjust to a world with limited water service in the wake of a 36-inch water main break affecting 35,000 customers.
Both CHI Memorial and Erlanger Hospitals have cancelled and rescheuled non-essential surgeries because of the water main break.
Officials say the biggest problem is keeping both hospitals cool, not only to keep patients and employees comfortable, but to keep machines from overheating.
CHI Memorial officials say patients are being asked to conserve water, and they have arranged for water to prep meals. Its hospitals in Hixson and Georgia are still opened.
"Erlanger Health System downtown facilities including Baroness Hospital, Medical Mall, Children’s Hospital, Kennedy Outpatient Center and other buildings at the downtown campus have been minimally impacted by the water break. Water levels and pressure are currently being maintained at the downtown campus. Erlanger North Hospital is currently without water and emergency procedures are in place. Erlanger East Hospital has not been impacted by the water shortage. Emergency protocols are in place to ensure water is maintained to provide safe and essential services for patient care. Should there be any changes in scheduling, patients will be notified as soon as possible with options to reschedule for non-emergent needs. Erlanger is working with all of our regional and community partners to ensure medical care is not impacted. Erlanger wants to thank all the agencies that are working to resolve the situation. Please understand Erlanger is working hard to ensure services are maintained."
Several days after the crisis passed, Erlanger sent a release about what it did during the crisis. Read it in full below:
"As Chattanooga residents awoke on the morning of Friday, September 13 to news of a water main break in the downtown area, Erlanger Health System was already making preparations for the long day ahead. As the region’s largest health system, highest level trauma center, and only Children’s Hospital with a mission to treat citizens with the utmost level of care in our region, medical and operational staff were on alert evaluating the water situation and preparing for the worst case scenario.
Water is an exceptionally important utility for a hospital system. It is not only used in sanitizing and hydrating for patients and staff, it is also used to keep the AC and chilling system running. These systems are not only for comfort but are also required to keep critical equipment such as CT, MRI and Interventional Suites functioning.
With all the areas that use water at Erlanger’s facilities in mind, the emergency committee began protocols to maintain water levels and pressure at the facilities and ensure water would be delivered to the areas that needed it the most. Business would continue without any disruption to patient care with options such as bottled water, tanks of water, water trucks, portable sinks and toilets, disposable supplies, boiling water, reducing non-emergent services, ordering a 5 ton chiller, and working with other partners for patient transport and care if there were any evacuations.
Any water that was used in food services was boiled in the kitchens. Several areas saw a reduction in menu items and began serving cold sandwiches and bottles of water. Paper products were also distributed to conserve water. Pallets of water were delivered to the loading dock. Bottled water was also distributed to eKids daycare. Not only was the day care still open for current students, employees with school-aged children who were impacted by school closures were also welcomed at eKids while parents worked.
Erlanger’s partnerships, such as Sodexo, played a huge role in ensuring the safety of patients. The lab received dry ice to keep supplies cool, communicated with area blood banks for ample supply of blood and had a backup plan to send items to Erlanger East if needed. Patient transport was also on standby if necessary to send patients such as NICU patients to East or other facilities.
“We had an outstanding response from the children’s hospitals outside the region,” said Don Mueller, CEO of Children’s Hospital at Erlanger. “We were prepared to relocate all of the patients at Children’s if needed.”
Sanitary conditions were maintained with hand sanitizers, portable sinks, portable toilets and buckets of water to help with manual flushing.
“We cannot express enough how appreciative Erlanger is for the quick response from all of our staff and contracted workers to ensure patient care and safety were not impacted from the water main break,” said Gregg Gentry, Erlanger’s Chief Administrative Officer. “This situation was a true testament of how partnerships come together in time of need and have resources available should we face the worst case scenario.”
“We would be remiss not to thank the Hamilton County Emergency Management for supplies and resources as well as all the community agencies that worked quickly to identify the waterline break, executed plans to keep Erlanger’s water maintained, and repair the break so that the hospital system as well as the area businesses and residents are back online,” said Robbie Tester, Erlanger’s Vice President of Operations.
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Despite maintaining and conserving water and ensuring the safety of Erlanger’s patients during the 3 1/2 day event, 11 emergent surgeries remained in progress on Friday morning, over 220 patients had other surgeries and procedures within the health system following the initial response, 1,279 patients were seen at East, Baroness, Children’s and North emergency rooms and nearly 100 patients were seen at our four local Express Cares. All elective surgeries and procedures were cancelled and are currently in the rescheduling process.
Dr. William Jackson, President and CEO of Erlanger, also expressed his gratitude for the Medical Staff. “We are grateful for all of our medical professionals supporting Erlanger’s departments and ensuring continuity of care during the event.”
“At the end of the day, this event highlights the importance of disaster preparation in its various forms as the team came together calmly and efficiently to ensure the hospital and trauma center remained open even when there was a loss of utility services in our city,” said Adam Royer, Erlanger’s Assistant Vice President of Surgical Services."
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