A team of medical workers with the U.S. Navy arrived Wednesday at Ochsner Lafayette General Medical Center to help the overwhelmed hospital staff treat a growing number of coronavirus patients.

Hospital employees lined the halls midday Wednesday, applauding as the team of uniformed personnel marched into Acadiana's largest hospital.  

"This federal support and state support of our health care workers is exactly what we need at this exact moment, certainly supportive," said Al Patin, CEO of Ochsner Lafayette General. "And I want our community to recognize and be grateful for that support because it cares for them as well."

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A team of U.S. Navy medical doctors, nurses and repiratory therapists, along with support staff from several branches of the armed forces, arrive at Ochsner Lafayette General Medical Center to aid hospital staff spread thin due to the influx of COVID patients Wednesday, August 18, 2021, in Lafayette, La.

The team deployed to Louisiana at the request of the Federal Emergency Management Agency as part of the Department of Defense COVID-19 response operation.

The federal workers — which include four doctors, two respiratory therapists and 14 nurses — attended orientation Wednesday and will shadow hospital staff Thursday and begin treating patients Friday.  They'll be able to staff 16 to 18 beds in a COVID-19 unit, allowing the hospital to utilize space at a time when staffing has limited the number of patients the hospital can admit. 

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Al Patin, CEO of Ochsner Lafayette General Medical Center, greets Navy Lt. Jae Wah as he and other U.S. Navy medical doctors, nurses and repiratory therapists, along with support staff from several branches of the armed forces, arrive at to aid hospital staff spread thin due to the influx of COVID patients Wednesday, August 18, 2021, in Lafayette, La.

In addition to the 20 trained medical personnel, FEMA also sent military administrative staff to assist with the operation. No one from the federal team was permitted to speak with media outlets.

Ochsner Lafayette General's main campus was treating 95 coronavirus patients as of Wednesday morning. The Ochsner Lafayette General system of hospitals in Acadiana had 169 coronavirus patients as of Wednesday morning. 

"Our numbers are still increasing," Patin said. "We're still boarding in our (emergency department), but the good news is we're starting to get a lot of our staff back, either from a negative test or their quarantine is up. That's the shining light."

Ochsner Lafayette General had 74 employees out across the system because of the coronavirus as of Wednesday; 16 of those employees were based at the flagship hospital, Patin said. Those numbers are down from one week earlier, when a total of 119 employees were out across the system because of the virus.

It's unclear how long the federal assistance will last.

"They haven't given us an official answer, and I can't answer for them," Patin said. "But they have said that they'll be here as long as we need them."

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Other area hospitals, including Our Lady of Lourdes Regional Medical Center, have continued to treat a record number of COVID-19 patients during the fourth and worst surge of the pandemic. The swift spike in the number of coronavirus patients has canceled surgeries and backlogged emergency departments across the region as the delta variant of the virus continues to spread unabated across Louisiana.

"We're certainly not immune to the fact that there are other health care institutions that are in the same boat as we are," Patin said. "And I'm not certain the formula that selected Ochsner Lafayette General Medical Center, but we're certainly thankful for that."

Ochsner Lafayette General administrators requested federal assistance in late July, Patin said. Hospitals were seeing a sharp increase in the number of people seeking emergency care for COVID-19 symptoms at the time, which public health officials have attributed to the highly transmissible delta variant and the region's low vaccination rate.

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Al Patin, CEO of Ochsner Lafayette General Medical Center, speaks to media following the arrival of a team of U.S. Navy medical doctors, nurses and repiratory therapists, along with support staff from several branches of the armed forces, to aid hospital staff spread thin due to the influx of COVID patients Wednesday, August 18, 2021, in Lafayette, La.

COVID-19 hospitalizations have continued to climb in the Acadiana region.

The Louisiana Department of Health reported Wednesday a new daily record of 409 coronavirus patients hospitalized in Region 4, which includes Lafayette, Acadia, Evangeline, Iberia, St. Landry, St. Martin and Vermilion parishes. Prior to this surge, the most COVID-19 patients hospitalized in a single day was 304 during the July 2020 surge.

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A team of U.S. Navy medical doctors, nurses and repiratory therapists, along with support staff from several branches of the armed forces, arrive at Ochsner Lafayette General Medical Center to aid hospital staff spread thin due to the influx of COVID patients Wednesday, August 18, 2021, in Lafayette, La.

Just one ICU bed was available in the entire seven-parish region, according to Wednesday's Department of Health update.

The Acadiana region continues to report a high volume of new coronavirus cases along with an alarmingly high COVID-19 test positivity rate. The region's positivity rate was 18.3% for the week ending Aug. 11, which outpaces the national and statewide rates. The Health Department reports positivity each Wednesday on a one-week lag. 

Public health officials use positivity rates to determine how widespread infection is in a region and whether enough testing is happening. A positivity rate below 5% is ideal, and a rate above 10% is cause for action. Louisiana's positivity rate was 15.5% for the week ending Aug. 11.

The state reported that 56 people have died of COVID-19 complications in the Acadiana region over the past two weeks. 


Email Megan Wyatt at mwyatt@theadvocate.com.