Texas flooding reinforces importance of hospital emergency plans

Sioux Falls, SD Dozens of hospitals, nursing homes and other healthcare facilities in Texas have had to evacuate as the flood waters continue to rise.

While many critical patients like NICU babies were evacuated early, others are still in the process of finding a safe medical facility in the region.

While South Dakota hospitals will never have to worry about a hurricane, they are prepared for these kind of full-scale evacuations.

“In emergency management you want to have all of the best plans you never have to use,” Greg Santa Maria, the Director of Public Safety for Sanford Health said.

Both Sanford and Avera Hospitals have evacuation plans for emergencies our area could experience.

“The biggest thing we look at in Sioux Falls is a severe weather event where any one of the facilities has structural damage, lots of broken windows, a tornado obviously,” Avera Health Emergency Coordinator Kevin Schlosser said.

“Really the big ones would be tornadoes or flooding,” Santa Maria said. “We have our facilities in Fargo where the Red River doesn't always behave.”

From North Dakota, to Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska, many regional healthcare systems all work together during an emergency situation.

“A number of years ago when the Red River in Fargo flooded, the hospitals had to evacuate NICU babies and Avera McKennan took in some of those NICU babies, so you look at having to travel 200 or 300 miles to find places for patients,” Schlosser said.

Much like we're seeing in Texas right now, resources become a major factor in how long that evacuation could take.

“What is the weather like, can we fly, can we not fly, do we have to use ground ambulances verses air ambulances and things like that, there are numerous variables,” Santa Maria said.

“The resources you typically count on during an evacuation, this is a weather event and they’re out in the community responding to real emergencies,” Schlosser said.

So in addition to the thousands of patients, family and staff already inside a hospital, evacuations require hospitals to bring in additional employees.

“When you look at a facility bringing in enough staff to respond to that…it’s going to be a very expensive process to get patients moved out of this facility to a different facility,” Schlosser said.

Evacuations are not only something hospitals plan for but also practice; four years ago, Avera did a full scale evacuation practice at the hospital, behavior health and nursing home facility in Sioux Falls.
It’s training Schlosser says staff rely on in the event of an actual emergency.