Louisiana Hospitals Await Ida While Packed With Coronavirus Patients

by Joseph K. Clark

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Louisiana hospitals packed with patients from the latest coronavirus surge are now bracing for a powerful Category 4 hurricane, expected to crash Sunday ashore. “Once again, we find ourselves dealing with a natural disaster amid a pandemic,” said Jennifer Avegno, the top health official for New Orleans. She called on residents to “prepare for both.”

Hurricane Ida is forecast to slam into the state late Sunday along the Louisiana coast. It is expected to be a Category 4 strength at landfall with fierce winds up to 150 mph (240 kph). The storm comes as hospitals and their intensive care units are filled with patients from the fourth surge of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is sparked by the highly contagious delta variant and low vaccination rates statewide.

Daily tallies of new cases went from a few hundred days through much of the spring and early summer to thousands a day by late July. Statewide, hospitalizations had peaked at around 2,000 or less in three previous surges. But that number peaked at more than 3,000 in August. The number reported The number reported Saturday was near 2,700, still high enough to stress hospitals. Saturday was near 2,700, still high enough to worry hospitals.

Gov. John Bel Edwards said the evacuation of hospitals in threatened areas wotients fill beds in Louisiana and elsewhere.

Coronavirus Patients

“That isn’t possible. We don’t have any place to bring those patients. Not in the state, not out of state,” Edwards explained.

Officials at Ochsner Health, which runs the largest hospital network in the state, said Saturday that they considered evacuating some of their facilities closer to the coast, but that wasn’t possible considering how packed other hospitals are in their network. Roughly 15 of their hospitals are in areas potentially affected by Ida. But they evacuated some patients with particular medical needs from smaller has certainly added a challenge to this storm,” said Mike Hulefeld, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Ochsner Health. But the hospit Roughly 15 of their hospitals are in areas potentially affected by Ida.al chain says it feels as prepared as it can be in other ways. Hulefeld noted three days ago that they ordered ten days’ worth of supplies for facilities in areas that Ida might affect, and everything has arrived. Each facility has backup power that’s been tested and a backup fuel truck on site. Many of their hospitals also have water wells should city water go out.

“We’re as ready as we can be,” said Hulefeld.

Jeff Elder, a doctor also the medical director for emergency management at LCMC Health, said that the system’s six hospitals would go into lockdown mode Sunday morning. The staff who would stay at the hospitals for the storm’s duration came in Saturday and Sunday morning and slept at the hospital.

Elder said one of the first things their hospitals do when storms occur is discharge any patients who can leave. However, their patient load is higher than usual because of the pandemic, so they’re unable to reduce by that much. But he said the hospitals in the system have been much more robust since 2005’s Hurricane Katrina.

“We’ve learned a lot since 2005,” he said. Key pieces of infrastructure are now raised to keep them out of flooding. For example, at University Medical Center in New Orleans, built after Katrina, the generator is presented, diesel supplies are protected, and the first floor doesn’t have essential services. Even if floodwaters get that high, nothing important is lost.

All of the hospitals in the system have generator backup power, Elder said. He also stressed that communication is now much better between hospitals in the hospital system and various levels of government.  Calling all HuffPost superfans. Sign up for membership to become a founding member and help shape HuffPost’s next chapter. Follow Santana on Twitter @ruskygal.

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