KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
In Texas, more than 20 hospitals are still closed because of Hurricane and Tropical Storm Harvey. Scores of patients have been evacuated over the last several days. Darrell Pile is the CEO of the Southeast Texas Regional Advisory Council. The group runs the Catastrophic Medical Operations Center. It helps hospitals in the region with patient evacuations and other challenges in disasters like this. And I talked to him on the phone earlier today.
DARRELL PILE: The flooding is devastating, and we have at least two reservoirs where water is having to be released and is in fact flooding neighborhoods as we speak and has placed three hospitals in harm's way. The situation with residents in their homes - some are on the second floor of their homes. The evacuation process continues. And as a result, it's unclear what the demands on the health care system may be. However, as a result of our planning and preparedness, most hospitals are up and fully functional. And we believe that we can handle any new demands that may happen today or tomorrow.
MCEVERS: And if evacuations have to happen, I mean how difficult is that logistically? I mean I know that hospitals evacuate very sick patients. It must be a tough job.
PILE: Yes. It's not as simple as pulling up a bus or a convoy of ambulances and moving patients from one hospital to another hospital. My organization makes sure that the receiving hospital is able to meet the needs of every single patient that they agree to receive. As a result, the evacuation of a hospital might mean we must identify 10 different hospitals to meet the unique needs of each patient. And we also have spent time making sure that the receiving hospital is not in harm's way so that a patient would not have to be evacuated twice.
MCEVERS: In terms of you and your work, I mean is it unprecedented in terms of the amount of work that you just had to do?
PILE: Yes. The calls come into our staff from area hospitals or from individuals needing help. The phone lines at one point became inundated. The amount of resources needed began to exceed what we had available. The calls included patients needing dialysis that - who might be at home. It included hospitals saying, we need to evacuate. One call was asking for 50 wheelchairs to be sent to a shelter. We didn't have 50 wheelchairs left. And fortunately our governor declared a disaster, and the president declared a disaster, and resources have been brought in from all over the state and all over the nation to help us.
MCEVERS: How did that shelter get those 50 wheelchairs they needed?
PILE: I am not clear on how they ended up getting the 50 wheelchairs, but I can tell you it can be accomplished just through one or two tweets to Houstonians. And those with wheelchairs perhaps in their attic or stored could bring an abundance of wheelchairs, perhaps more wheelchairs than you'd even need. So there are methods to solve every problem. It's just having enough people to make the calls or to be innovative and creative to solve the problems. This community has come to the call.
MCEVERS: A number of hospitals in the area had made renovations to help protect against floods after Tropical Storm Allison back in 2001. Have you seen those flood protections working this time around?
PILE: Absolutely. A tunnel system connects the Texas Medical Center hospitals. In prior storms, water came in and flooded every hospital through that tunnel system. So the Texas Medical Center invested in submarine-type doorways.
PILE: And when there is a risk of flooding, they now close those doorways so that each hospital is compartmentalized. As a result, this storm - even though flooding devastated our community, it did not devastate the Texas Medical Center through that flood system, through that hallway. So congratulations to the Texas Medical Center.
MCEVERS: Well, Darrell Pile, CEO of the Southeast Texas Regional Advisory Council, thank you for your time and for your work.
PILE: You're welcome.
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