Lafayette hospitals are fortifying their supply stores and backup generator capacity while preparing staff for potential overnight and shelter-in-place shifts ahead of Hurricane Ida’s expected landfall in south Louisiana on Sunday.
The hospitals were setting in motion their emergency plans as projections from the National Hurricane Center around 4 p.m. Friday put the storm at a Category 4 as it makes landfall south of Morgan City on Sunday night. The forecast puts the storm’s potential winds as high as 140 mph, with impacts to be felt across most of southern Louisiana.
Elisabeth Arnold, spokesperson at Our Lady of Lourdes Regional Medical Center, said the hospital system began preparations mid-week through discharge planning to free space in their facilities, increasing supply orders and building out staffing plans to ensure adequate care availability during the storm.
Arnold said as of Friday at 4:45 p.m. Lourdes was caring for 79 COVID-19 patients on their main campus, and their four emergency rooms around the parish were ready to serve patients who may need care as a result of Hurricane Ida.
Lourdes has backups to their main generators, with enough generator power to run the entire hospital for over a week. If they needed to limit generator power to use for outlets necessary to life safety and critical needs, like ventilators, they could run those machines for over two and half weeks without needing to replenish the generators’ fuel supply, Arnold said.
Ochsner Lafayette General Medical Center’s Donnie Simon, director of safety, security and emergency preparedness, said in a media briefing that the emergency preparedness team worked across departments to ensure ample supplies of food, linens, medical supplies and critical pharmaceuticals to support the hospital for several days if supply chains are disrupted by the storm.
Simon said sizable portable generators were brought in as a secondary layer of backup power support should the main generator and initial tier of backup generators fail. Those generators have been undergoing load testing to ensure they can support the power and machine needs of the hospital’s patients, including COVID-19 patients on ventilators.
Adequate electrical support is a key element of the hospital’s safety and emergency preparedness plan, especially as administrators prepare to shelter in place. With hospital beds statewide and in neighboring states full, evacuation isn’t much of an option, Simon said.
“Our main focus is to take care of our patients, our employees and the staff that are going to stay with us,” he said.
Lafayette General CEO Al Patin said if the need to transfer a patient arose they’d work with Louisiana’s emergency response network to find space for that person, but they’re not planning for evacuations as a focus of this storm.
“We believe we have enough redundancy to carry us through any type of electrical outage,” Patin said.
Patin said the hospital and associated facilities in the region are working to discharge any patients that are capable of being safely discharged to free space in case of storm-related hospitalizations or needed care.
They’re aware an influx at the hospital is possible and feel comfortable with their ability to provide care with the existing patient census, he said. The hospital’s emergency room will remain open if needed during the storm.
The CEO said similar preparations are happening at Lafayette General facilities throughout the region, not just at the hospital’s main campus.
“Yes, we are preparing for a hurricane in the midst of another storm: COVID-19. We are certainly capable of doing that and that is what we’re faced with today. We have a remarkable emergency preparedness team that is always ready for these events,” Patin said.
Simon said the hospital is also establishing sleep and respite areas for employees to stay before or after a shift if the emergency plan requires them to shelter-in-place on-site in order to be available to provide care 24-7. Once the storm passes, a relief team will take their place.
Patin said the military surge teams assisting at the hospital to care for COVID-19 patients will shelter-in-place at the hospital’s main campus with other hospital staff if that protocol is launched for Lafayette General staff. They function like part of the team, he said.
Aside from standard storm preparations, the hospital’s main campus also secured areas of ongoing construction on the main campus, Patin said.
Potential projectiles and building materials have been secured and the two cranes, which are bolted down at the base, are hurricane tested and built to move with the wind like a weathervane to prevent the crane from toppling under the wind pressure, he said.
Simon cautioned community members to take necessary safety precautions before, during and after the storm. Often after hurricanes or tropical systems, the hospital sees patients injured while trying to clean up in poor visibility conditions or in areas where there are hazards, patients suffering snake bites while wading in flood waters or who suffer carbon monoxide poisoning from misusing generators, he said.