August 22, 2016

How Louisiana hospitals kept patients, staff safe during historic floods

Daily Briefing

    Hospitals in Louisiana responded to catastrophic flooding by activating their emergency response plans and moving patients to higher ground.

    According to the Louisiana Department of Health, the flooding has resulted in 13 deaths. Among the deceased is Bill Borne, the founder of Amedisys, one of the nation's largest home health and hospice care providers.

    Brad Kieserman, the Red Cross' VP of disaster services operations and logistics, told CNN that thousands of state residents have "lost everything they own."

    The floodwaters have led some hospitals to relocate patients. Ochsner Medical Center-Baton Rouge relocated 57 patients to affiliated facilities across the state on Aug. 14 over concerns the facility might lose power. The system has launched a hotline for family members who need information about transferred patients.

    According to Ochsner Health System COO Mike Hulefeld, patients were evacuated via military-style vehicles because floodwaters had made other modes of travel impossible.

    "Patient safety is our highest priority," the hospital said in a release.

    The broader system also closed seven clinics because of the flooding, according to Modern Healthcare.

    By last Monday, ambulances could reach the hospital campus, and trucks managed to bring in supplies, although the roads remained impassable in regular vehicles.

    10 years after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans hospitals reflect

    Flooding affected operations, staff

    Staff members at the hospital also faced significant consequences from the storm. For instance, about 60 staff members slept on campus because they were unable to leave. Hulefeld said, "Our leaders do have experience, given the history in southeast Louisiana." He added, "We were well-prepared, and our staff pulled together."

    Hulefeld said that because the floods were quickly declared a national disaster, federal funds will be available to help staff recover. "We can't function without our staff, and our staff need access to those dollars," he said.

    Meanwhile, North Oaks Health System, which is located east of Baton Rouge, was able to continue operations at its acute care and rehabilitation hospitals because those facilities are located 40 feet above sea level. However, the system was forced to close 13 clinics, according to Michele Sutton, the system's COO.

    And while North Oaks' main hospital remained open, more than 50 employees slept at the hospital during the worst of the flooding because of freeway closures. About 150 staff also reported flooded homes and cars.

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    The flood affected staff at other hospitals as well. Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center CEO Scott Wester last Monday estimated that about 30 percent of employees could not report to work. The hospital took steps to make sure all employees were accounted for and to determine whether any had lost vehicles in the flooding.

    Randy Olson, CEO of Lane Regional Medical Center, said, "The biggest challenge is our employees. Some are stranded. Some are rescued. Some are trying to get back to their homes." He added, "I don't know how to encapsulate what they've been going through."

    North Oaks' Sutton said staff who were not affected by the flood came in to help and to relieve affected workers. "We really have a strong family here at North Oaks," she said. Sutton added that the hospital had learned lessons from Hurricane Katrina and was well-prepared for the storm, with plenty of emergency supplies on hand. "We make sure that we drill all the time, and that we have contingency plans in place," she explained.

    As floodwaters subsided, the hospital's ED saw an influx of patients, some of whom had routine medical needs such as dialysis. But in the long term, some officials are worried about the health effects of stagnant water, which can lead to infections (Rubenfire, Modern Healthcare, 8/15; Ross Johnson, Modern Healthcare, 8/15;  Chatelain, NOLA.com/Times-Picayune, 8/14; Lau, The Advocate, 8/18; Ourso, Greater Baton Rouge Business Report, 8/17;  Serrano, WBRZ 2 ABC, 8/14; Boone, The Advocate, 8/16; Yan/Flores, CNN, 8/19).

    How hospitals can prepare for floods and other disasters

    Hospitals must be prepared for myriad disasters that can stress health care systems to the breaking point and disrupt delivery of vital health care services.

    Advisory Board has compiled step-by-step procedures for various threats your facility may encounter—though we hope you'll never need to use them.

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