Four days from crisis: Lafayette hospitals cope with record COVID-19 patients

Andrew Capps
Lafayette Daily Advertiser

The unprecedented influx of COVID-19 patients during the region’s fourth wave surge of COVID-19 has Lafayette hospitals facing the need for crisis standards of care in just a matter of days. 

“We are in Phase Six of our seven-phase surge plan. Our next phase of the surge plan is crisis standards of care,” Our Lady of Lourdes Chief Medical Officer Dr. Henry Kaufman said Wednesday. 

Acadiana’s hospitals were housing the largest number of COVID-19 patients they have seen yet as of Tuesday, with 350 hospitalized with the virus across the region. Our Lady of Lourdes in Lafayette has 112 of those, while Ochsner Lafayette General has 146, both of which are records for those facilities.

Students return to North Vermilion High School for the first day of the 2021-22 school year Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2021.

“We set (the crisis) number a long time ago at around 120 patients, never thinking that we would get to that point and praying that we never get to that point. And now we're faced with an unprecedented reality of hitting that number in just four short days,” Kaufman said. 

“We will manage. We will find ways to care for the patients that are under our care. But I'm afraid it won't be to the standards that we generally hold ourselves to,” he added. 

“The nursing ratios will have to be dramatically different. Response times will be different, allocation of additional resources will be different. And nobody wants to see that. Nobody ever wants to go there. But I'm just afraid that that's the limit of what the system can handle, and we're rapidly approaching it.”

Lafayette's medical leaders called on the region's residents to help slow COVID-19's blistering third surge ahead of this year's holiday season.

Both hospitals are postponing elective surgeries as COVID-19 patients swarm their facilities, with roughly 400 surgeries put off at Lourdes and between 100 and 110 delayed each week at Lafayette General. 

OLG’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Amanda Logue said her hospitals still have some flexibility before reaching crisis standards of care thanks the the number of facilities they operate locally, but warned that COVID-related hospitalizations are continuing to increase even after breaking the hospital’s previous record. 

“We exceeded our highest (total) about five days ago, and we just continue to go up,” Logue said. “We've never had this many patients in all of the health system with COVID before.”

The surge has added more than 300 COVID-19 patients to the region’s hospitals in just over a month, largely thanks to Acadiana’s low vaccination rate and the virulence of the more contagious delta variant of the virus, which is now far and away the dominant strain in and around Louisiana. 

“We're in a very concerning point in this pandemic,” Acadiana’s Regional Health Director Dr. Tina Stefanski said. 

“This fourth surge here in Acadiana is the worst surge, and  when we look at all of our indicators, we clearly have the highest level of transmission of COVID that we've had throughout this pandemic happening now.”+

The delta variant is affecting younger patients far more than previous COVID-19 surges have, and Logue said the average age of death for her hospital’s COVID-19 patients has dropped roughly 20 years during the current surge. 

“One of the scarier statistics for me has been the average age of our mortalities is 53,” Logue said. “When we went through earlier surges, the last three, our average mortalities were in the range of 70-76 years old, so we've had almost a 20 year drop in the average age of people that are dying this time around.”

Dr. Tina Stefanski, the regional medical director for the Office of Public Health in Acadiana, speaking with media to provide updates to the status of the COVID-19  pandemic in Lafayette Parish. Wednesday, March 18, 2020.

To stem the tide of new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, Stefanksi urged residents to wear masks and get vaccinated against the virus before potentially catching it and contributing the increasing number of people being hospitalized since the region’s COVID-19 trajectory isn’t yet showing signs of slowing down.

“We're not seeing any slowdown,” she said. “We're not seeing a turnaround in any of these trends in the near future, so that tells us as it is that, if we don't really come together as a community, we're going to continue to see these increases and continue to see this transmission grow.”

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