Local hospitals damaged, Louisiana discusses ‘field hospital’ after Ida

With four of the five hospitals in the Louisiana bayou area almost entirely inoperative, state and federal authorities are considering setting up a “field hospital” to provide medical care to the parishes of Terrebonne and Lafourche in the wake of the hurricane Ida.

Officials from the US Department of Health and Human Services and the Louisiana Department of Health were in southeast Louisiana on Wednesday to determine what was needed for more hospitals in Terrebonne and Lafourche to be functional.

If they fail to get one of the damaged hospitals back to service quickly, they could consider a temporary field hospital, several health care officials and advocates said on Wednesday.

“The goal is to ensure that there is the best possible delivery of health services, and there are many ways to go about this, whether by supporting the existing health infrastructure that remains or by setting up temporary additional services, “said spokesperson Aly Neel. for the national health agency.

The Louisiana Department of Health and Gov. John Bel Edwards’ office declined to discuss details of any field hospital plan.

Since Hurricane Ida made landfall, the Terrebonne General Medical Center in Houma, Leonard J. Chabert Medical Center in Houma, Lady of the Sea General Hospital in Cut Off, and Ochsner St. Anne in Raceland have all been evacuated. Their patients have been transferred to hospitals in other parts of the state – sometimes as far as Monroe and Shreveport.

The Chabert and Sainte-Anne emergencies are still staffed, but they cannot admit people with serious health problems requiring an overnight stay. St. Anne’s is also expected to open a six-bed behavioral health department on Wednesday night, but if someone needs additional care, hospital staff will stabilize and transfer that person to another facility.

Only one major hospital remains, the Thibodaux Regional Medical Center, offering full services in Terrebonne and Lafourche, which have a combined population of over 200,000 people. Warner Thomas, president of Ochsner Health, said the bayou region was short of 250 to 300 hospital beds and 100 mental health beds due to hurricane-related closures.

“Are we worried about hospital capacity in the future? Yes, ”Thomas said in a media call on Tuesday.

The federal government is providing additional medical staff to Thibodaux Hospital to help with the influx of patients, but the hospital is in the northern part of the bayou region, at least 30 minutes from its largest city, Houma. .

“We have to have some kind of functional hospital,” said Pro Tempore Chamber President Tanner Magee, from Houma. “The lower part of [Terrebonne] the parish has nothing at the moment.

Ida made landfall at Port Fourchon on the southern tip of Lafourche on Sunday as one of the strongest hurricanes to ever hit the United States. The storm ravaged the bayou region, leaving residents without water, electricity, fuel or reliable mobile phone service.

Government officials said the power companies had offered no timetable to restore power to southern Terrebonne and Lafourche. The water service began to gradually return to the northern part of Terrebonne, but still does not work in the southern part of the parish.

Hospitals tried to prepare for Ida by switching to generator power before the storm and keeping water and medicine on hand. But they suffered damage to their buildings. Ida blew up damaged windows and roofs, pouring rainwater into their facilities. The generators also broke down. It will take at least a week before Terrebonne Général can admit patients again. Ochsner Health does not yet have a schedule for the full opening of Chabert and Sainte-Anne.

“If people need hospital services, they will be very limited,” said representative Jérôme “Zee” Zeringue, who also represents Houma.

Terrebonne and Lafourche are home to much of Louisiana’s offshore oil and gas operations as well as its commercial fishing industry. Communities have been hit by hurricanes in the past. Hurricane Rita in 2005 caused widespread flooding in the area, but it was not comparable to Ida, officials said.

“We’ve never experienced a storm that looks like this and we’ve been through a lot of storms here,” Magee said.

After Rita, some local hospitals were able to stay open because they weren’t flooded – and the wind wasn’t as destructive as it was during Ida, Magee said.

Before Ida, hospitals in Louisiana tried to avoid evacuating patients because they weren’t sure they could find beds elsewhere. Many hospitals in South and Texas are at full capacity due to a recent spate of COVID-19 cases.

Louisiana had 2,447 people hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Wednesday, 446 of those patients are on ventilators. This made it more difficult for hospitals spared by Ida to accommodate patients affected by the storm.

“From an intensive care standpoint, we’re still tight enough to be able to take a lot of inbound transfers,” said Robert Hart, chief medical officer of Ochsner Health, Louisiana’s largest healthcare provider, on Tuesday.

Dozens of hospitals and nursing homes outside the Bayou region also run on a generator and use well water after Ida cuts off electricity and water services communities. But facilities in New Orleans, Jefferson Parish and Northshore appear stable so far, said Paul Salles, president of the Louisiana Hospital Association.

The biggest challenge going forward, Salles said, is staffing. Hospitals have struggled to find enough healthcare professionals to treat COVID-19 patients, a problem made worse by Ida.

Doctors, nurses and other medical staff already based in Louisiana may need time off or want to move temporarily if their home is damaged or if they do not have electricity. It is also difficult to bring in hospital staff from out of state because hotel rooms are not available.

“It’s a problem to hire contract nurses because there is basically no room for them,” Salles said.

Ochsner is trying to make it more comfortable to keep his staff in Louisiana. They have booked thousands of hotel rooms and are purchasing generators for hotels to ensure they have reliable power and air conditioning.

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