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Post-Katrina planning helped Louisiana hospitals prepare for Ida

Some Louisiana hospitals near the coast are evacuating patients as tropical storm Ida damaged their mechanical systems, but most have avoided catastrophic damage.

Ochsner Health transferred around 65 patients Monday at its Leonard J. Chabert Medical Center in Huoma and its St. Anne Hospital in Raceland, which had roof damage and power issues. The health system also helped evacuate about 100 patients from Terrebonne General Medical Center.

While Ida pummeled the city's infrastructure, leaving hundreds of thousands of New Orleans residents without water and power, Ochsner, LCMC Health, Woman's Hospital, North Oaks Health System and other large providers have been buoyed by backup water and power. Ochsner hasn't reported any injuries or interruptions in emergency services, CEO Warner Thomas said, adding that more water and fuel trucks are standing by or en route.

"Folks have been going through COVID-19 for a year and a half now. This fourth surge we went through has been the most difficult one that we have experienced since COVID-19 started in March 2020. Now we have a major hurricane that ends up being a little worse than anticipated given it took so long to pass through," he told reporters during a conference call Monday. "Staff are challenged, but that is why we are communicating with you guys quite a bit and communicating with them even more."

Several New Orleans hospitals have experienced cell phone and landline outages, which has hampered communications. Lady of the Sea General Hospital in Galliano, for instance, sustained significant damage and the storm knocked out its phone system. At press time, AT&T cell service was still out across New Orleans, said Greg Feirn, CEO of LCMC Health, which has six hospitals in the New Orleans area.

"That has made communication challenging—we are doing more with our websites and through social media channels," Feirn told Modern Healthcare.

But overall, LCMC facilities are faring well, he said, noting that patient care hasn't been interrupted. The system has been able to tap into water wells at its two facilities in Jefferson Parish. All LCMC hospitals are on generator power, have at least a week's worth of fuel supply and refuels are scheduled, Feirn said.

"Gratefully, a week leading up to the storm we started to see a favorable downward trend in our COVID census," he said, adding that it went down from around 250 to 200 cases. "Certainly that is an added complication but we feel pretty good about where we are now."

Ida, which has been weakened to a tropical storm, hit southern Louisiana Sunday with winds of up to 150 miles per hour, heavy rain and flash flooding. It knocked out an Entergy transmission system that cut off power to virtually all of New Orleans.

The storm set into motion emergency plans that hospitals have honed since Hurricane Katrina and tropical storm Isaac hit in 2005 and 2012, respectively. While many health systems have weathered the storm relatively well, the lingering effects on New Orleans residents who lost power and water may manifest in the coming years.

"We had pre-scheduled fuel delivery and had backup generator power at all of our facilities," Feirn said. "We are significantly more prepared on the facility side than we were for Hurricane Katrina."

Baton Rouge-based Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health System said that its staff are safe and its facilities didn't suffer catastrophic damage. Baton Rouge General's main campus is running on city power and its two satellite campuses are on generators. It has also experienced minor leaks and facilities damage, but nothing that affected patient care or required evacuations, the hospital told Modern Healthcare.

"Our community is still seeing high numbers of COVID patients and we still have more than 130 COVID patients in-house. We encourage the public to continue to take precautions as they clean up from the storm," a Baton Rouge General spokesperson said.

Christus Health's Louisiana hospitals haven't had any interruption to its utilities and weather damage was nominal, a spokesperson said. Woman's Hospital is helping care for some neonatal intensive care babies and pregnant women from south Louisiana hospitals. The hospital plans to continue surgeries and procedures on Tuesday, prioritizing urgent and emergent cases.

Health systems have closed outpatient procedures and halted non-urgent care.

"The biggest challenge in the coming days is around our people," Ochsner's Thomas said.


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