Grappling with COVID-19 surge, Ochsner hospitals prepare for major Hurricane Ida

Andrew Capps
Lafayette Daily Advertiser

As Hurricane Ida threatens Louisiana’s Gulf Coast with massive rainfall and extreme winds, Ochsner Health System facilities are preparing to deal with a major storm as the grapple with the current surge of COVID-19 patients. 

“It is a stressful time,” Ochsner President and CEO Warner Thomas said Friday. 

“Given what our teams have gone through with the COVID-19 crisis and certainly the fourth surge we've been going through, having a Category 4 hurricane heading our way creates additional stress on the team.”

Ochsner’s facilities across the state are caring for a combined 836 COVID-19 patients, Thomas said Friday, a decline of more than 150 patients from a week ago. 

Ochsner Lafayette General Medical Center welcomed a 20-person crew of U.S. Navy healthcare professionals Wednesday as the hospital deals with its largest surge in COVID-19 patients yet. Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021.

But number of COVID-19 patients presents a major burden for the system as it faces the potential impacts, and subsequent fallout, of the coming hurricane, including the likely need to accommodate the needs of people affected by the storm. 

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Thomas said the system has “hardened” its facilities to continue operating through the storm as needed and has ordered 10 days worth of supplies and fuel to keep the hospitals running. 

He said the system isn’t currently expecting to transfer many patients out of the area, but also said Ochsner’s facilities are not in ideal situations to accept patients from other healthcare providers that may need to evacuate for the storm.

“We've informed the state that we have limited capability to take patients from other facilities, especially nursing homes that sometimes have to evacuate,” Thomas said. “I know that some of those have already occurred and have evacuated to other sister nursing homes.”

Warner Thomas, CEO and president of Ochsner Health, gives a COVID-19 update to reporters during an online news conference Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2021. He is joined by other medical professionals with the Ochsner Health system.

Given the current proliferation of COVID-19 in Louisiana’s communities, Thomas said there are concerns that storm shelters will need to be prepared to care for COVID-19 patients who have mild enough cases to not need hospital care. 

Plans are in place to make oxygen available at shelters across the state, Thomas said, in advance of the storm should the need for it arise. 

“We do see that typically when folks get in trouble, they end up at an ER. Once again, our capacity is limited, but if folks come, we're going to take care of them. There's no doubt about that,” Thomas said.

“But I know that the state and the cities and the parishes have been working to create shelters that have some oxygen capability,'' he added. “I spoke to the governor today. He knows that this is definitely a challenge out there.”

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