Southern Louisiana’s hospitals, already packed with coronavirus patients from a fourth surge of the virus, were dealing Sunday with another challenge—the howling Category 4 hurricane pounding the coast. “Once again we find ourselves dealing with a natural disaster in the midst of a pandemic,” said Jennifer Avegno, the top health official for New Orleans. Lady of the Sea General Hospital in Lafourche Parish, near where Ida made landfall, reported extensive roof damage. “All patients and staff are fine at this time without injury; although, our hospital has sustained significant damage," hospital CEO Karen Collins said in a message relayed via Facebook. The hospital's phone system was down.
“Once it is safe to do so they will evacuate their small number of patients,” state health department spokeswoman Aly Neel said in an email. Details on the number of patients involved were not immediately available. Ida struck as hospitals and their intensive care units were filled with patients from the fourth surge of the COVID-19 pandemic, sparked by the highly contagious delta variant and low vaccination rates across Louisiana.
Daily tallies of new cases in Louisiana went from a few hundred a day through much of the spring and early summer to thousands a day by late July. Gov. John Bel Edwards told the AP on Sunday that more than 2,400 COVID-19 patients are in Louisiana hospitals, saying the state was in a “very dangerous place with our hospitals." The governor also said 22 nursing homes and 18 assisted living facilities have been evacuated though evacuating the largest hospitals was not an option because there simply aren't other places to send them. Anticipating that power could be out for weeks in places, Edwards said a big focus will be on making sure there is enough generator power and water at hospitals so they can keep up with vital patient needs such as providing oxygen or powering ventilators.
“I hate to say it this way, but we have a lot of people on ventilators today and they don’t work without electricity,” he said. Officials at Ochsner Health, which runs the largest hospital network in Louisiana, said roughly 15 of the network's hospitals are in areas potentially affected by Ida. The network evacuated some patients with particular medical needs from small, rural hospitals to larger facilities. (Read more Hurricane Ida stories.)