KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

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Evacuating A Hospital Isn’t An Easy Undertaking. Here’s How One Facility In Texas Managed It.

The New York Times takes a look at the intricate plan to remove patients from the Baptist Beaumont Hospital after Harvey hit. The lingering public health effects from the storm are also in the news.

The New York Times: After Harvey Hit, A Texas Hospital Decided To Evacuate. Here’s How Patients Got Out.
As floodwaters from Hurricane Harvey began filling his north Beaumont, Tex., home last week, Theodore Atwood waded outside to get a utility knife, so he could pull up his carpet and protect it. Coming back to his kitchen, he slipped and fell on the wet linoleum, and ended up at a local hospital with a severely broken pelvis. But that was only the beginning of his journey, as he became one of 243 patients evacuated from the hospital last Thursday and Friday, according to a hospital spokeswoman, after flooding from the storm damaged the city’s water system. (Fink and Burton, 9/6)

Stat: Preparing For Hurricane Irma, Hospitals In Florida Keys Evacuate Patients
Hospitals in the Florida Keys bracing for Hurricane Irma, a Category 5 storm with sustained winds of up to 185 miles an hour, are evacuating patients and preparing to close their doors. Three hospitals in the Florida Keys — Lower Keys Medical Center, Mariners Hospital, and Fishermen’s Community Hospital — have been discharging patients capable of going home since earlier this week and are coordinating air and ambulance transports for the 20 or so inpatients who remain inside their walls. (Blau, 9/6)

NPR: Houston Methadone Clinics Reopen After Harvey's Flooding
Medical workers in Houston are dealing with a secondary problem after last week's floods: Clinics that offer methadone and other opioid addiction therapies are just getting back up and running, and many people don't have access to the treatments they need. While the city flooded last week, Stormy Trout was going through opioid withdrawal at a detox center surrounded by water. "You know, cravings and anxiety, it's just treacherous, it really is," she said Tuesday while waiting for a ride outside an opioid treatment clinic in north Houston. "I'm like, I know I can do this, but I just need something to help with the cravings and the anxiety and stuff." (Hersher, 9/6)

The New York Times: High Levels Of Carcinogen Found In Houston Area After Harvey
High levels of the carcinogen benzene were detected in a Houston neighborhood close to a Valero Energy refinery, local health officials said Tuesday, heightening concerns over potentially hazardous leaks from oil and gas industry sites damaged by Hurricane Harvey. Preliminary air sampling in the Manchester district of Houston showed concentrations of up to 324 parts per billion of benzene, said Loren Raun, chief environmental science officer for the Houston Health Department. (Tabuchi, 9/6)

The New York Times: Harvey Swept Hazardous Mercury Ashore. The Mystery: Its Source.
Public health officials are investigating a case of dangerous liquid mercury that appears to have washed or blown ashore here, east of Houston, in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Bobby Griffin found the clusters of shiny silver mercury globules scattered across his San Jacinto riverfront property on Tuesday, a few hundred yards from the San Jacinto Waste Pits, a Superfund site that was inundated during last week’s storm. (Healy and Kaplan, 9/6)

Bloomberg: Receding Floodwaters Expose Long-Term Health Risks After Harvey 
Benzene churns through Houston’s economy. The clear, sweet-smelling chemical is found in the crude oil processed in the region’s refineries and is used to make plastic, pesticides and other products. It’s also a carcinogen whose cancer-causing properties illustrate the risks that will linger for southeast Texas long after the floodwaters of Harvey have receded. Thousands of homes were submerged in murky water that may have been tainted with benzene and other runoff from an area that boasts the nation’s largest concentration of refineries and petrochemical plants. (Dlouhy, 9/7)

The New York Times: Seven Hard Lessons Federal Responders To Harvey Learned From Katrina
During Hurricane Katrina, as residents of New Orleans were left stranded in the floodwaters, thousands of firefighters who had assembled to help rescue people instead spent days wading through paperwork and completing training on federal sexual harassment policies. Disasters, of course, are never smooth. Last week in Houston, some residents reported trouble getting through to 911, and many said calls to officials for help went unanswered. And plenty of volunteers who splashed into the floods saw a tangle of miscommunication, wrenching delays and plain old incompetence. Now many are watching to see how the federal government will handle Irma, one of the most powerful Atlantic storms ever recorded, as it appears ready to hit Puerto Rico and Florida. (Philipps, 9/7)

Houston Chronicle: Health Insurers Urged To 'Do The Right Thing' After Harvey 
The Texas Department of Insurance is urging health insurers in Texas to loosen restrictions and show flexibility for people who have already sought or may need medical or mental health treatment in coming weeks. "We want to make sure that all of the people who are displaced by Harvey have the medical care they need without having to worry about their specific plan details," department spokesman Ben Gonzalez said Wednesday. (Deam, 9/6)

Houston Chronicle: County Giving Tetanus Shots At No Cost
The Galveston County Health District is making the tetanus vaccine available at no cost to those who have not received a shot within 10 years. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, floodwater exposure does not increase the risk for tetanus. However, those who have not received a tetanus shot in 10 years should do so as a matter of routine health care. (9/6)

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