Columbia’s boil water advisory following flooding throughout the region might be onerous for locals, but it presents a wholly different issue for hospitals. Individuals can still bathe and put that water to some use, but for the sick, who are already susceptible and could have open wounds, that’s simply not possible.
This reality is why Palmetto Health Richland is now beginning to process separately water that is used directly for patients at the main hospital and the children’s hospital. The hospital still will use city water for things that don’t involve consumption, such as air-conditioning and cooling equipment, according to spokesperson Tammie Epps.
“We’ll be using two different lines,” Epps said.
The hospitals had to shut down the water system overnight as part of the switch-over process.
The hospitals will use local water that has been processed by National Guard engineers for use with patients.
“At a hospital, you cannot use water the same way like at your house,” Epps said. “We would not bathe a patient with the water we’re currently getting from the city of Columbia system because we’re under the boil water advisory.
“You can’t wash a patent with it,” she said. “You can’t use it in surgery.”
The clean water will be purified with a reverse-osmosis technique by which pressure forces contaminated water through a filter to remove the contaminants. Epps said the National Guard is taking city water, running it through this process and then will pipe it into the hospital.
The hospital first needed to run through a cleaning of the water system to prepare for the consumable water. That started with running a high concentration of chlorine through the system and then shutting down the system overnight Thursday so there was no water movement for eight hours.
After that, the system was refilled with clean water. Epps said that stage already has been reached, and the hospital is now waiting for final testing for any contaminants.
“We’ve sent it off, and we’re waiting the up-to-24-hours to get the test back,” Epps said.
The expectation is to have a clean, independent water source that should last until regular water service is restored.
Downtown Columbia’s two other hospitals are looking at the same changeover.
Palmetto Baptist, Richland’s sister hospital, will eventually undergo the same changeover, but the timing is not yet set. Providence Hospital will implement something similar, according to spokesperson Kelly Perritt.
“Providence is collaborating with the Department of Health and Environmental Control and the South Carolina Hospital Association to implement an alternative water source at our facilities,” Perritt wrote in an email.