Here’s how Louisiana hospitals are handling the double onslaught of Hurricane Ida and COVID-19

Already overwhelmed by a surge in COVID-19 cases, Louisiana hospitals are now struggling with how to keep functioning after significant damage and disruption caused by Hurricane Ida.

“For me, it’s like a one-two punch to the gut,” said Dr. Mark Kline, physician-in-chief at the Children’s Hospital of New Orleans. “The thing is, the same doctors who have been here well over 24 hours working nonstop through the hurricane, those are the same doctors who have been stressed to their limits taking care of children with COVID over the last couple of months.”

Hospitals and medical centers reported debris and water leaks, others are working on borrowed time with generators and some are having to consider transporting patients to hospitals in other states.

“We already have the Corps of Engineers on the ground, identifying additional generators that we can bring to these hospital locations so should we have a failure before power is restored, we’re going to be able to switch them over and they’re working extremely hard on that,” Gov. John Bel Edwards told President Joe Biden during a briefing on the storm Monday afternoon.

Ida left more than 1 million people without power when it made landfall Sunday. At least two deaths have been reported in the storm.

The state’s health care system was already stretched by the rising COVID cases. ICUs in Louisiana are about 88% full and nearly half (45%) of those beds are in use by COVID-19 patients, according to data from the US Department of Health and Human Services, leaving the state to deal with two major crises at the same time.

“I have to keep reminding people that whether we like it or not, we’re still in the COVID environment. It’s a very difficult COVID environment, where 100% of our cases today are attributable to the Delta,” Edwards said, referring to the more transmissible variant of the coronavirus which accounts for the vast majority of newly diagnosed cases in the US.

The state already has the seventh-highest COVID-19 hospitalization rate in the country, HHS data show. About three-quarters of total inpatient beds are currently occupied, and more than one-in-six patients have COVID-19, according to the data.

Here’s how hospitals are handling the double onslaught of chaos:

 

SOME HOSPITALS HAVE ALREADY EVACUATED PATIENTS

Ochsner Health System, Louisiana’s largest non-profit, academic, healthcare system, is in the process of evacuating about 165 patients from facilities that were damaged during the storm.

Warner Thomas, president and CEO of the company, said Monday that 65 of those patients were from St. Anne in Raceland and the Leonard J. Chabert Medical Center in Houma.

Another 100 patients will be moved out of the partner facility, Terrebonne Behavioral Health Center, in Houma. Patients are being transported to multiple facilities across the state, including St. Bernard Parish Hospital, he said.

In Galliano, Louisiana, all patients at Lady of the Sea General Hospital were transferred to other facilities, according to Karen Collins, CEO of the medical center.

“Our staff worked tirelessly under extreme conditions to continue care for our patients throughout Hurricane Ida, and because of their efforts, all of our patients came through this event safely,” Collins said.

Gov. Edwards said another hospital, Terrebonne General Health System, was in the process of being evacuated Monday evening.

In New Orleans, the Children’s Hospital has a contingency plan in place to transfer children to other facilities if needed, Kline told CNN affiliate WDSU-TV.

“Fewer than 5% of hospitals across the US are children’s hospitals and so we can’t just transfer our sick kids to just any hospitals, it has to be to a place that takes care of very seriously ill children with complex medical problems,” he said.

Kline said children were safe overnight because the hospital began locking down and preparing for the storm around 7 a.m. Sunday.

 

SOME HOSPITALS SUSTAINED SERIOUS DAMAGE

Two days before Ida made landfall, the Children’s Hospital had just opened a $300 million addition, Kline said.

Now, the new addition has water on ground floor, water coming through roof, and 3 inches of water in the chapel that hasn’t been used.

“We’ve been on backup emergency power for more than about 12 hours now,” he said.

Power, clean water and staff safety are the three main concerns for the hospital, Kline said.

“We don’t have a good sense at this moment of how many of our staff members have lost their homes, have had severe damage to their homes or they’re in an area where they can’t get to the hospital,” Kline said. “We’re all running on fumes at this point.”

At the Ochsner Medical Center, Thomas says every facility sustained some sort of roof damage during the storm.

“It was a pretty rough ride yesterday, the sustained winds — for a much longer period of time than I think folks anticipated — did create significant damage across our system as it did across the entire region,” Thomas said.

Ochsner Health facilities continue to run on back-up emergency power and, according to Thomas, have a 10-day supply of fuel to keep it going. Trucks are on their way to assist with the hospital’s power needs.

Lady of the Sea General Hospital had to close its emergency room and hospital after sustaining significant damage.

“Our goal is to open at least one of our Rural Health Clinics and Community Pharmacy at some point this week. We will continue to release information about healthcare services for the South Lafourche community as it becomes available,” a news release from the hospital said.

In response to the dire situation in Louisiana, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the federal government is monitoring the situation to ensure hospitals do not run out of oxygen. She also said HHS and the Federal Emergency Management Agency are working to assess and deploy additional assets as needed.

“Prior to the storm, we had more than 300 federally deployed health care personnel on the ground supporting COVID surge response in Louisiana and Mississippi,” Psaki said. “The Department of Veterans Affairs has made beds available prior to the hurricane to support local hospitals and will be available to assist in response.”

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