Hurricane Ida made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane in Louisiana on Sunday, presenting yet another challenge for hospitals in Louisiana already dealing with a fourth surge of Covid-19 patients.
Hurricane Ida hits Louisiana hospitals
According to Nola.com, Hurricane Ida hit the coast of Louisiana on Sunday as a Category 4 storm—imposing another hardship on a state that has been grappling in recent weeks with a surge of Covid-19 cases. The current surge has led to more Covid-19 hospitalizations than at any other point in the pandemic. Axios reports that about 68% of hospital beds and 84% of ICU beds in the state are full.
According to Gov. John Bel Edwards (D), 22 nursing homes and 18 assisted living facilities were evacuated in anticipation of the storm hitting, but evacuating patients from large hospitals in coastal areas to inland hospitals was "just not possible."
"The hospitals don't have room," he said. "We don't have any place to bring those patients—not in state, not out of state." He added that the state was in a "very dangerous place with our hospitals."
For instance, Ochsner Health has been stretched so thin as it deals with an influx of Covid-19 patients, it was forced to turn down 175 patient transfer requests last week alone, MedPage Today reports. And with roughly 15 of the health system's hospitals in areas that could be affected by Ida, CEO Warner Thomas noted that Ochsner preemptively evacuated some patients from smaller, rural hospitals to larger facilities.
Katherine Baumgarten, medical director of infection control and prevention at Ochsner Health, said one challenge the health system is facing is that many patients in its ICU—including 75% of patients in the ICU of Ochsner's flagship Jefferson Highway campus—are on ventilators, which means that maintaining power is critical. To address these concerns, the health system ordered 10 days of supplies for facilities in locations that could be adversely affected by Ida, with backup systems for power and fuel in place.
Similarly, Stephanie Manson, COO at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center, which had 190 Covid-19 patients on Friday—including 79 in the ICU—said her facility couldn't discharge patients before the storm. Since so many Covid-19 patients require oxygen, she explained, "going home isn't really an option."
After the hurricane hit on Sunday, Thibodaux Regional Health System lost partial power of its backup generator. This meant that, rather than using ventilators while transferring patients to other floors of the hospital, staff had to manually push air in and out of patients' lungs, according to officials at the Louisiana Department of Health. However, at about 7 p.m. on Sunday, officials at Thibodaux Regional said on social media that "the backup generator that was affected earlier by winds from the hurricane is back online at the current time."
Meanwhile, Lady of the Sea General Hospital has reported extensive damage to its roof. Hospital CEO Karen Collins said, "All patients and staff are fine at this time without injury; although, our hospital has sustained significant damage." The phone system at the hospital is also down.
"Once it is safe to do so they will evacuate their small number of patients," Aly Neel, a spokesperson for the state health department, said.
More worry for what's yet to come
Health officials have also expressed concerns that evacuations and people staying in shelters could mean more Covid-19 cases will arrive after the hurricane is gone, just as the state has seen a 20% drop in Covid-19 hospitalizations over the past 10 days, according to Gov. Edwards.
"We've already been worried about this fourth Covid surge, now we're worried about our homes flooding, or not having electricity for weeks or a month," Baumgarten said. "We have to re-live the anxiety [of Hurricane Katrina] while worrying about getting through not just the hurricane itself but also the aftermath." (Gonzalez, Axios, 8/28; Santana/Deslatte, Associated Press, 8/30; Fiore, MedPage Today, 8/29; Woodruff/Gallo, NOLA.com, 8/29; Fink, New York Times, 8/28)