How Houston's hospitals are coping with Harvey

Flooding a challenge for hospitals
Flooding a challenge for hospitals 03:22

The disastrous flooding in and around Houston is a huge challenge for the region's medical centers. Around 20 hospitals have been evacuated or discontinued service in the greater Houston area since Harvey made landfall. As many as 1,500 patients have been transferred.

As Tropical Storm Harvey dumped record amounts of rain in the region, Sarah Hunter went into labor.

"We were a little nervous we would make it in time," Hunter said. "It's nice to have a good thing come out of something so scary."

She and husband Wesley had decided to stay at a hotel close to Texas Children's Hospital just in case, reports CBS News correspondent Kris Van Cleave. 

"We wouldn't have been able to make it to the hospital if I hadn't," Hunter said. Sure enough, little Elliott came a week early.

The hospital picked the Houston Marriot as part of its hurricane preparedness plan for a reason: they wanted women who are in high-risk pregnancies, people who would go into labor during the storm, to be there because it's just steps away from Texas Children's Hospital. Across the street, there is another emergency room.

Dr. Brent Kaziny leads the emergency management team at Texas Children's Hospital where Elliott and 26 other children have been born since Saturday.

"The challenge with Harvey has been that it's been kind of an ongoing issue. So it's been days on days," Kaziny said.

But the staff was ready for the storm.

"We have flood doors in the basement levels that are essentially like submarine doors, that shut us off from the rest of the Texas Medical Center underground," Kaziny said.

The hospital has only experienced minor leaks. North of downtown Houston, rising floodwaters forced St. Luke's Vintage Hospital to evacuate 29 patients on Monday using boats and trucks.

"Our biggest concern was the water that surrounded the hospital, accessibility, and we did have some water that got into our main powerhouse where all of our operational power and needed life-sustaining equipment comes from," chief nursing officer Valerie Howell said.

About 40 nurses and staff are still stranded inside the hospital.

"Their houses have been destroyed and they are not able to return home," Howell said.

But like so many emergency workers, they stayed on the job to help patients like Sarah and her husband.

"Every single staff member and nurse and doctor that's been here, they have family members," Wesley Hunter said. "For them to stay focused on my family, that really, really means a lot to me."

While most hospitals remain open, some have only limited access to medicine, food and power. This weekend, torrential downpours blocked access to food and medicine for the nearly 350 patients at Ben Taub Hospital. Conditions have improved. There is enough food until at least Thursday, and three critical patients were successfully evacuated.

Many hospitals made improvements after Tropical Storm Allison paralyzed the area in 2001. Still, hospitals like Ben Taub have a way to go, and the trauma center is preparing for the inevitable influx of new patients after the storm waters recede.