Louisiana hospitals mend damaged roofs, coordinate patient transfers following Hurricane Ida
After weathering damaged roofs and orchestrating patient transfers, executives at Louisiana’s largest health system say their organization and others are going into cleanup mode as Hurricane Ida sweeps past the hard-hit area of New Orleans.
The storm made landfall Sunday night as a Category 4 hurricane and has cut power to more than 1 million people in Louisiana and Mississippi. the AP reports.
In addition to flooding and sustained high winds, the storm also damaged at least four Louisiana hospitals and left 39 medical facilities running on generator power, according to the report, citing information from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Monday morning, Xavier Becerra, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, declared the public health emergency for Louisiana and Mississippi
“Hurricane Ida made landfall as an extremely dangerous storm, paving its way of destruction that poses a significant threat to health and safety,” Becerra said in a statement. “These statements and waivers help ensure that some of the most vulnerable residents of Louisiana and Mississippi — Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries — have continued access to the care they need in the wake of this storm. We stand ready to provide additional public health and medical support to help affected communities respond and recover.”
In a news conference held late Monday, executives of Ochsner Health, Louisiana’s largest hospital system, said it has so far suffered no injuries to its patients or employees.
“We are assessing all facilities across the region, we are assessing staffing needs across the region, and we will continue to receive updates,” President and CEO Warner Thomas said at the press conference. “It’s a fluid situation, but our facilities are operational. No injuries, no workers injured, and we know the emergency room is going to get busier as patients enter a post-storm environment. And we are ready for that.”
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Still, the system faces varying degrees of structural damage and power outages across all facilities.
“Probably every facility we have has some kind of roof problem. They have water intrusion, of different sizes,” Thomas said.
Thomas and Chief Operating Officer Mike Hulefeld said roofing teams to these facilities are deployed alongside fuel and water trucks to maintain backup generators and water supplies, respectively.
One hospital, Ochsner Medical Center – Kenner, had an overnight backup generator problem that has since been resolved, they said. All hospitals were equipped with a 10-day supply of fuel for their generators, although executives said they expect fuel trucks to be on site today or tomorrow to replenish those reserves.
Thomas noted that yesterday Ochsner had decided to preventively evacuate patients from St. Charles Parish Hospital and other behavioral care facilities. More recently, it also decided to evacuate patients from Ochsner St. Anne Hospital and Leonard J. Chabert Medical Center to other Ochsner facilities in the state due to hurricane damage.
All told, the system transferred 65 patients internally, Thomas said.
At the same time, the CEO said Ochsner is answering a call from Terrebonne General Medical Center, one of its partners, to transfer about 100 patients.
“Speaking to their CEO, they have had significant roof damage and water has entered the facility,” Thomas said. “As far as I know they are having issues with water and HVAC cooling so they are working to evacuate the patients. The people are safe … but we will definitely have to take the patients out today and to a different environment.”
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The executives said their system and others are in touch with state exchange networks and hospitals from other regions who have offered to help if there is more need.
Since Sunday evening, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards said: Prior to the storm, 22 nursing homes and 18 assisted living apartments had been evacuated. Other hospitals in the area, such as Lady of the Sea General Hospital and Thibodaux Regional Medical Center, also suffered structural damage or non-critical power issues on Sunday night and planned to move patients as soon as it became safe to do so. , the AP reported.
But beyond facility repairs and patient transfers, Ochsner’s executives said they were looking ahead to the long-term challenges of emergency response.
Chief among these is the wellbeing of staff, “hundreds or thousands” of whom may return home to find damage to the building and cut utilities.
“We are working on identifying housing for our employees,” Thomas said. “We did this after Katrina – we identified hotels, we put our employees in hotels. But in New Orleans there is no power or water, so putting them in hotels in New Orleans isn’t going to work. We have to identify other opportunities and that’s up to the hallway.
“And then we keep thinking about every way we can meet the other personal needs and support our employees. We are already in the process of bringing in significant stocks of toiletries and personal items, as we know our employees will need them for themselves and their families,” said the CEO.
The biggest concern will be the patients who arrive in hospitals with “typical hurricane injuries” in the coming days, executives said.
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These cases are often related to orthopedic trauma such as hip fractures and result from people falling from rooftops and ladders, they said. The hospitals will also see a small influx of patients with typical concerns delayed by the emergency.
The curveball here that many are concerned about is whether hospital departments hit hard by COVID-19 patients can handle the hurricane admissions or a potential spike in new infections.
The executives said Ochsner hasn’t felt a major blow to his bed and ER capacity so far, thanks in large part to much of Louisiana’s population being evacuated to other states ahead of the storm.
“If they come back, that could present a different set of challenges, but for now we’re fine,” Hulefeld said.