Handwashing, bathing OK at Fort Bliss hospital as efforts continue to find tainted water source
Stars and Stripes April 11, 2022
The hospital at Fort Bliss has approved its water supply for some uses after flushing the pipes at the 9-month-old facility, but officials have not signed off on its use for surgeries or drinking four days after declaring it unsafe, according to the west Texas Army base.
Col. Brett Venable, commander of the William Beaumont Army Medical Center, said Thursday that the water was unsafe for drinking and sterile procedures “out of an abundance of caution” because the water contained sediment and was discolored. Multiple tests of the external water supply indicated the problem exists within the internal plumbing of the seven-story hospital, Fort Bliss said.
The base said Saturday that it’s OK to use the water for routine handwashing and bathing but not much else as several military agencies continue to search for the root cause of the problem.
“[The hospital] and Fort Bliss place the safety of patients and the hospital staff first. Technical experts continue to troubleshoot systems and develop both near-term and long-term solutions,” Fort Bliss said.
Facility staff flushed the pipes Thursday with “limited success,” the base said. The following day engineers shut off the main water line and visually inspected piping.
“The environmental team also conducted more testing and inspections but have yet to determine the root cause. Experts from the Defense Health Agency and the U.S. Army Environmental Command arrived to support Fort Bliss and WBAMC in ongoing troubleshooting,” Fort Bliss said.
However, the facility remains on limited operations because the water has not been cleared for surgeries, dental care, drinking or ingesting, food preparation or eye-wash stations, Fort Bliss said. Portable eye-wash stations have arrived in place of fixed stations.
Officials postponed scheduled elective surgeries, and they are sterilizing all equipment in a separate off-site facility. Patients and staff are receiving bottled water.
The El Paso Veterans Affairs Health Care System, located near the old Fort Bliss hospital, partners with the Army hospital and has since arranged for the sterilization of its instruments to move to another facility at Fort Bliss, said Jessica Jacobsen, spokeswoman for VA.
No Fort Bliss patients have transferred to other hospitals in the El Paso area because of the water issues. But the facility began Thursday to divert trauma patients elsewhere.
The Army began moving into the $1.3 billion hospital in July, and the new medical center was fully operational in August. Several military agencies are working to make the water supply safe for all uses, including the Defense Health Agency, Army Medical Command, the Army Environmental Center, the Army Public Health Command and the leaders at Fort Bliss.
The 1st Armored Division Sustainment Brigade is coordinating daily with the hospital to provide water sources and assist with hygiene stations at various locations throughout the hospital, said Peter Graves, spokesman for Defense Health Agency.
“Safety remains our number one goal and every patient is being taken care of for their medical needs,” he said.
TRICARE beneficiaries with health concerns are encouraged to speak to their primary care manager, call the TRICARE Nurse Advice Line at 1-800-874-2273, or visit their nearest urgent care clinic in the El Paso community.