Willis-Knighton Health System cancels non-emergency procedures amid water issues

Willis-Knighton Health System cancels non-emergency procedures amid water issues
Snow at Willis-Knighton Health System on Feb. 17, 2021 (Source: Willis-Knighton Health System)

SHREVEPORT, La. (KSLA) - Willis-Knighton Health System says it’s canceling non-emergency and elective procedures unless absolutely necessary due to water pressure and other issues plaguing northwest Louisiana hospitals due to the severe winter weather.

The health system’s chief administrative officer, Brian Crawford, says he has been in communication with Shreveport Mayor Adrian Perkins and Bossier City Mayer Lo Walker about the issues.

“We as a hospital system have five large hospitals,” Crawford said. “Three in Shreveport, our rehab center on Line Avenue, and our Bossier facility, and we started experiencing, like everyone else, started experiencing low water pressure yesterday. Now, it’s starting to impact patient care for the entire health system of northwest Louisiana. A lot of patient care therapies involve water. When that water is not available and you cannot flush a commode, you can’t provide water for dialysis and those critical things, it becomes a healthcare crisis. Right now, this is a bigger healthcare crisis than COVID-19 for the healthcare systems in northwest Louisiana, not just to provide those patient services, but to also keep the facilities heated as well.”

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Crawford says the health system is working with both Shreveport and Bossier City to ensure all hospitals in both cities have priority when it comes to having water restored.

“Being able to have at least whatever water pressure is available,” Crawford said. “Right now, I can tell you I have about a third at each one of my facilities of the pressure that I normally have. I was just notified that at my North facility, there is no water pressure on the fifth and fourth floors and it’s starting to work its way down. The only place that I have a little bit of water pressure now is on the bottom floors at each one of my facilities at Pierremont, Bossier, South, and North. So we are working with both cities and their water departments to see if there are any opportunities to valve down any non-essential areas, whether that’s residential or commercial, anywhere that is non-essential, to make sure that the hospitals are provided whatever pressure is available. It’s all attributed to the cold weather. The main breaks, the water leakage, it’s also attributed to everyone in their households having a little bit of water running to keep their pipes from freezing. When you have tens of thousands of households doing that, it diminishes the water pressure.”

Crawford says he was on the phone with Bossier City and the water is being used as fast as it’s being pumped out. He says when that happens, you can’t build up any pressure, creating the challenges many, including the hospitals, are experiencing.

“What we have done in our health system is canceled everything that is non-emergency,” Crawford said. “From cancer treatments to hemodialysis, outpatient physical therapy, all of our clinic offices are closed and we are only focusing and saving those resources that we do have, by way of water, for those emergency cases. The biggest issue we have healthcare-wise is dialysis patients. Dialysis is something that we cannot put off. Some physicians can move it a day or two, but those patients have to be dialyzed and they require large amounts of water to push the machines that operate the dialysis through their systems. When something happens and you cannot do that, it creates a medical crisis.”

Crawford says the health system is also working with Dr. Whyte, the regional health director for northwest Louisiana. The Louisiana Department of Health (LDH) is having conversations with Governor John Bel Edwards. He says they’re looking to supply tankers of water from the National Guard that will come up from south Louisiana.

“We are also working with the Shreveport Fire Department and they have been doing a great job coming out to our facilities a number of times and filled up our water coolers, which helps us heat our facilities as well,” Crawford said. “It’s all hands on deck here. We have an emergency operations center set up at our North facility.”

In the meantime, Crawford is asking residents to stay at home unless absolutely necessary.

“All of our facilities are full,” Crawford said. “We are at capacity. I’m holding about 60 patients in my emergency departments that I don’t have beds for right now. We caution people to not even get out of their house. Stay safe, stay warm, and if it is an emergency, you can call 911. We will be there for you.”

Crawford says healthcare workers are sleeping at the hospitals to avoid having them drive in the weather conditions.

“We have rooms that are not patient-ready rooms, but they are rooms that someone can sleep in, change clothes, and those types of things,” Crawford said. “We have put up hospital staff. Nurses, physicians, respiratory therapists, and even administrators are spending the night here to ensure that we have an adequate number of staff to take care of people. Obviously it is a challenge. Right now, we have an administrator picking up a dialysis nurse that lives in Bossier to make sure she can get to the hospital. That speaks on the dedication of the healthcare workers at all of our hospitals in our community to ensure people are being taken care of. Some of the commodes and toilets are still flushing. We are putting mitigation efforts in place, including the tableside. We have porta potties for staff possibly being positioned outside of the hospital, so we have that resource available.”

The health system released the following additional information Wednesday evening:

Due to the weather and water conditions, Willis-Knighton Health System has canceled all non-emergency procedures, imaging services and surgeries at its hospitals and clinics. Please refrain from visiting the hospital emergency department unless you have an immediate life-threatening condition. We ask patients to refrain from using the hospitals for minor conditions to free our very limited staff to handle patients with very serious conditions. Although local pharmacies are closed, the hospital pharmacies cannot fill prescriptions for walk-in patients. We ask the public to limit phone calls to the hospitals because phone equipment damage and low staffing affect our ability to handle large call volumes. We will make a public notification to media when normal conditions are resumed.

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