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‘These are the darkest days of this pandemic’ Louisiana hospital leaders warn

They are pleading with the public to get vaccinated and mask up to ease the influx of cases.
Published: Aug. 2, 2021 at 9:38 PM CDT|Updated: Aug. 2, 2021 at 9:39 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - With nearly 2,000 covid patients hospitalized Monday, the State Health Department predicts we will have the largest number of hospitalized patients since the pandemic began by Tuesday.

“We’ve already opened a surge ICU, so now I’m running three ICUs,” Michele Sutton, CEO of North Oaks Health System said. “We had to discontinue elective surgeries so that we could turn the recovery rooms into ICU. Where do we go next?”

“That staff is tired and demoralized, the morale is very low,” Dr. Phyllis Mason, Chief Medical Officer of Natchitoches Regional Medical Center said.

In the beginning, it was a shortage of PPE. Now, it’s become a shortage of people behind the gloves and masks with over 6,000 open nursing positions across the state and over 40 hospitals asking the Governor for help.

Some of those hospital leaders spoke during Governor John Bel Edwards COVID update, Monday, pleading with the public to follow the mask mandate and get vaccinated.

“We have 67 empty beds in our hospital because we can’t find any staff,” Dr. Catherine O’Neal, Chief Medical Officer at Our Lady of the Lake said. “We have a federal unit on the ground who usually I meet at the PMAC during a hurricane, but now they’re inside our hospital and we can’t even open beds with them, because so many of our staff are out with COVID-19.”

Not to mention, the staff they do have is getting sick. North Oaks in Hammond currently has 62 employees out of 2,700 out with COVID (They have a 43-percent vaccination rate among employees), only operating 200 beds out of a possible 330.

“It’s not uncommon to see five or six stretchers lining up in our emergency room hallway with the EMS driver standing by waiting to offload, but I don’t have any rooms,” Sutton said. “The other day we had over 20 boarders [admitted patients on stretchers] and I had a waiting room of over 80 patients waiting to come in.”

Half of North Oaks patients have COVID and the hospital is on diversion, meaning ambulances are asked to go elsewhere, but everyone is full.

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“We’re holding patients in the emergency room sometimes up to 2,3,4 days,” Mason said.

Two weeks ago the largest hospital in the state, our Lady of the Lake had just 36 covid patients, Monday it was 155. Their 800 beds are close to being full with around 713 beds in use.

“No one diagnosis should take up one-quarter of the hospital,” O’Neal said. “That doesn’t happen. It’s not imaginable, except for me.”

This sudden influx, on top of the other kinds of emergency and trauma patients, has created a bottleneck.

“This is now not just about the COVID patient, this is about you, the general public, that we cannot provide quality care for,” Mason said.

ER’s don’t have the specialists and critical care doctors people need.

“You have people with chest pain, sitting in an ER right now with a family sit in the waiting room, they are wringing their hands, they’re calling everybody they know,” O’Neal said. “‘Do you know somebody who works at the Lake? When do they get me in? Do you know somebody who works at Ochsner? Can they get me in?’ and they will do that for days.”

It’s getting down to the toughest of choices for many hospitals.

“He [North Oak’s Chief Medical Officer] went into a gentleman’s room and explained, ‘we can’t fix your brain aneurysm tomorrow like we hoped because we don’t have a critical care bed for you when you come out of surgery.’”

When asked what to do if this doesn’t improve, O’Neal had a chilling answer.

“I don’t’ know. We’ve never experienced this before.”

These health system leaders stress the vaccine still works. It prevents over 99-percent of deaths and keeps you out of the hospital.

Although they pleaded, the quickest thing we can do to open up hospital beds is to mask up right now, since it takes a few weeks to finish a vaccination series and become fully protected.

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