Beaten Louisiana hospitals were bracing for another challenge Monday in the wake of Hurricane Ida – an influx of new patients.
And with services already strained by the Covid-19 crisis, the still unanswered question was where to put them.
Governor John Bel Edwards told MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle that he is prioritizing “strengthening our hospitals so that they can continue to serve all of their patients and the people who have been injured and have not yet been able to. get to the hospital because of something what happened during the storm.
At least two deaths have been linked to the storm, the Louisiana Department of Health said. Edwards said on MSNBC that he expects the death toll to increase as the damage assessment is underway.
At the top of his list, said Edwards, “restore communications, put them back in a better place.”
But with New Orleans and large swathes of the state still without power, it remained to be seen how long that would take.
When Ida roared across the state on Sunday, doctors and nurses at a hospital directly on Storm’s Path, the Thibodaux Regional Health System, were forced to manually pump air into the lungs of patients after a generator failure and fans stopped working. an intensive care unit.
All were successfully transferred to another floor that still had power, said Mindy Faciane, spokesperson for the Louisiana Department of Health.
Elsewhere in the state, some of the most critically ill patients from other hospitals were also transferred on Monday as evacuations from storm-damaged facilities were underway.
Dozens of patients from Ochsner Health System hospitals in Luling, Raceland and Houma have been transferred to hospitals in Baton Rouge, Morgan City and New Orleans due to hurricane damage to rooftops, generator failures and floods.
More than 100 patients are transferred from the Terrebonne General Health System establishment in the hard-hit town of Houma alone.
“Ida was tough yesterday,” said Ochsner President and CEO Warner Thomas. “Every facility that we have has some sort of roof problem. We have roofers on the way now.
No patients or staff were injured during Ida’s passage and “the evacuation was carried out in order,” Thomas said.
Additionally, most generator issues have been resolved, and hospitals have enough fuel to keep them running for at least 10 more days. But more problems are coming, he said.
“We know we’re going to start to get busier, and we’re ready to handle that,” Thomas said.
NBC News collaborator Dr Kavita Patel, who helped respond to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and saw firsthand how Louisiana’s ailing hospital system was tested, said she did not was not so confident.
“Here is the good news,” Patel said. “The area has been more tested and prepared for combat than you can imagine. They didn’t prepare for a pandemic on top of that. “
Normally, Patel said, Louisiana hospitals with too many patients and not enough beds would have the ability to evacuate critically ill patents most at risk “to Texas and surrounding states.”
But, even before Ida erupted at the scene, Louisiana and its neighbors were grappling with a surge in new Covid-19 cases and struggling to find enough beds for sick patients. “There is no room there,” Patel said.
Then there’s this worry: Ida could potentially worsen the already severe Covid-19 crisis in Louisiana, as people were forced to huddle in overcrowded shelters before the storm and many now stay there indefinitely because their homes are destroyed.
“We will probably see more infections after this time,” Patel said. “We have 18 months of experience knowing that gathering places, especially with children and other unvaccinated adults, can turn into super-spreading events. “
“We know so much better how to contain that – masks, testing people, making sure that as soon as someone is symptomatic, isolate them,” Patel said. “But again, you make it through an active tropical storm. … This is going to be a challenge in the coming weeks.
Edwards told Ruhle he was aware of the dangers of having so many people in the shelters and that health officials would insist that all safety protocols be followed.
“They will wear masks,” the governor said. “They’re going to take some distance. They’re going to go through special cleaning protocols. And we have the rapid test that we’re going to administer – we’re also administering in our shelters.”
Yet Louisiana already had one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country, with just 41% of the population fully vaccinated, according to the most recent statistics. The state has also seen one of the most vocal oppositions to masking and social distancing.
This month, the Louisiana Higher School Board was forced to adjourn after a group of protesters opposing a mask warrant for students disrupted the meeting.
Medical experts overwhelmingly agree that without a mask warrant, schools could experience major coronavirus outbreaks because children under 12 cannot yet get vaccinated.