Local health leaders warn of strain Omicron is causing on weakened hospital system

Published: Jan. 11, 2022 at 10:26 PM CST|Updated: Jan. 12, 2022 at 9:52 AM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - New COVID-19 data shows hospitalizations are on the rise with 1,905 people in hospitals statewide on Tuesday.

While only 98 of those patients are on ventilators, health leaders issue a stark warning.

While doctors say the omicron variant may be milder, what’s happening in hospitals is anything but.

“I can’t remember the last time a cold shut down the American health care system,” New Orleans Health Director, Dr. Jennifer Avegno, said.

Advances in treatments combined with Omicron’s seemingly less severe illness can obscure this surge’s true cost.

“A bed is a bed and we don’t have them right now,” Avegno said.

With Omicron smashing case rate records, hospitals are still being flooded.

Avegno says in three weeks hospitalizations have risen statewide faster than in the Delta surge.

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“If you go to an emergency department right now, expect to wait six, ten, twelve hours to be seen, just to get back to the emergency department,” Avegno said. “We are having staff outages in the triple digits. That’s common at some of our larger facilities. Patients in some cases are lined up in the hallways and I will tell you for me personally that’s really difficult to see this is something that used to happen when I trained at Charity Hospital. It was not appropriate then and we knew. It’s not appropriate now.”

Across the country, the healthcare system has taken a huge blow. The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows more than half a million workers have left since 2020 and now, those who have stayed can’t work because they too are catching COVID-19.

“It’s really not a physical space issue that we’re seeing with COVID in our hospitals, but it’s a workforce issue,” Dr. Jeffrey Elder said. “It’s having enough nurses and respiratory therapists and physicians and all the other people it takes to run a hospital there and ready to take care of the patients.”

Elder says as they get staff back from isolation, more just take their place.

Although he says the staff numbers have been looking a bit better, there’s still a lot of COVID in the community.

“That’s going to be the battle we fight over the next couple weeks,” Elder said. “We hope we will see a peak in the number of new cases and we’ll see the number start to come down, but we’re still high right now, we’re seeing case numbers we’ve never seen before.”

North Oaks Hospital in Hammond is predicting a tremendous wave of patients over the next two weeks, larger than the previous surge.

“That’s concerning to me about our ability to provide the care that North Oaks likes to provide,” Dr. Robert Peltier said. “Last week, I had over 100 employees of our almost 2,700 employees that were out.”

Elder says, still, 80 percent of their patients are unvaccinated.

He also added that half of their COVID cases are secondary diagnoses, meaning that wasn’t what the patient came for, but he stresses that still takes extra manpower, PPE and isolation.

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