Burst pipes & delayed procedures: Hospitals grapple with frigid weather

An arctic blast has brought frigid temperatures to most of the U.S., leading some hospitals to postpone elective procedures. 

Nearly 80% of the U.S. saw subzero temperatures overnight on Jan. 15, with wind chills forecasted to reach as low as -30 degrees Fahrenheit in parts of the country Jan. 16, according to NBC News. Frigid temperatures are expected to warm up slightly Jan. 17 before another round of arctic air sweeps through much of the country in the second half of the week. 

Tacoma (Wash.) General Hospital has closed its 30 operating rooms each day since Jan. 12 due to the extreme cold, a spokesperson for the system told ABC affiliate KOMO News. As of Jan. 15, 80 elective procedures had been rescheduled. The ORs were closed because frigid temperatures can cause humidity levels to decrease, which poses a risk of fire and electrostatic discharge to certain medical equipment. Dozens of patients were sent to other facilities in the region that weren't affected. 

"The cold weather is making it harder to control the humidity in the hospital," Scott Thomas, a spokesperson, told the news outlet, adding that normal operations are expected to resume by Jan. 17. Operations are underway to add humidity control devices to Tacoma General's HVAC systems, which would prevent having to postpone elective surgeries due to frigid temperatures in the future, Mr. Thomas said. 

Meanwhile, the majority of elective procedures at PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center RiverBend in Springfield, Ore., scheduled for Jan. 15 were postponed and rescheduled, according to a report from NBC affiliate KMTR. The health system's clinics in the region were also closed. 

The extreme cold is also causing water lines to break. Water poured into the emergency department at Ascension Via Christi St. Francis in Wichita, Kan., on Jan. 14 after a sprinkler line broke. In a statement to FOX affiliate KAKE, the hospital said most of the damage has since been repaired. 

"An overhead sprinkler line fractured, causing water damage in parts of the Ascension Via Christi St. Francis Emergency Department and surrounding areas," the hospital told the news outlet. "Facilities and hospital leadership responded immediately and quickly ensured that all processes and resources were in place to continue to safely care for patients."

Cincinnati Children's faced a similar problem at its behavioral health facility in Norwood, Ohio, on Jan. 12. A water fountain burst and flooded the facility. It remained closed as of Jan. 15, according to NBC affiliate WLWT. 

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