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Heather Bauder, Senior Director Administrator at Our Lady of the Lake's Ollie Steele Burden Manor, talks about the effect of the Walgreen's clinical visit team administering of coronavirus vaccinations to residents on Monday, January 4, 2021, during an interview at the nursing home. The facility entered lockdown prohibiting indoor visits in mid-March, and though the facility has coped by using other visiting methods, she said that the response from both residents and staff has been 'incredible,' and that 'families of residents have been ecstatic with the news that the vaccine was to be administered.' 'I've never seen such a quick turnaround of on consent forms' as they've had with this, she said. 'Residents are anxious, but in a good way.'

Our Lady of the Lake hospital began distributing doses of coronavirus vaccines at its north Baton Rouge campus Wednesday to regular elderly patients and has plans to expand those efforts to other sites in the coming days.

Hospital officials said they started those injections at the Airline Highway complex one day after the state Department of Health informed hospitals statewide they could start giving their unused allocations of vaccine doses to inoculate those 70 and older and those in other eligible groups.

Baton Rouge General plans to be begin vaccinating on Friday people who are among the 80,000 existing patients within the hospital's system and are also now eligible for the vaccine.

Scheduling began Wednesday and vaccinations will start at the Mid City and Bluebonnet campuses and expand to the new Ascension campus in Prairieville soon, hospital officials said.

Those first steps at wider vaccination among those and other regional hospitals came as medical leaders described on Wednesday surging patient numbers even before the full effect of Christmas and New Year's has taken hold.

Dr. Catherine O'Neal, chief medical officer of Our Lady of the Lake, said the hospitals in the Baton Rouge market admitted 24 COVID-19 patients in 24 hours on Monday, the second highest one-day admission during the pandemic.

The highest was 25 patients in one day over the summer but cases quickly dropped off after that high. This time, cases have building for weeks, she said.

"It seems to be our most sustained peak yet and doesn't look like it's stopping today," O'Neal said.

The OLOL's hospitals in the Baton Rouge market had 101 COVID-19 patients Wednesday, nearly one-seventh of the 676 total patients. All those COVID-19 patients have an impact on patients with other ailments and are holding the hospital's ability to get patients beds.

Baton Rouge General had 71 COVID-19 patients as of Wednesday.

Previously hospitals' share of the vaccine doses had been limited to frontline health-care workers, but state officials said Tuesday they would open up access to the hospitals' unused allocations of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine as uptake from hospital staff statewide has been slower than expected.

Pharmacies did receive 10,500 doses of the Moderna vaccine this week for the those 70 and older and for a broader category of health workers in the general public, but, spread across 107 outlets, the supply has quickly been outstripped by demand and waiting lists have already developed.

About 7,000 of the 17,000 employees in Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health System -- the Louisiana system that encompasses Our Lady of the Lake -- have been inoculated so far. The system has received about 10,000 doses so far.

Baton Rouge General has vaccinated about 1,600 of its 3,500 employees so far, said Meghan Parrish, hospital spokeswoman.

In the Ochsner Health System, about 16,000 of 32,000 employees statewide have been vaccinated, officials said Wednesday.

Officials with Ochsner and Our Lady of the Lake said some of their employees were waiting until after the holiday break or wanted to see how those who took the first doses had fared.

At Our Lady of the Lake, O'Neal added, she was constantly battling false rumors about the vaccine that were leading to some hesitancy among employees during the early stages of staff vaccination in mid-December.

"The wariness of this vaccine, especially from social media myths, has been difficult, and it's hard to argue against something that has no scientific basis," O'Neal said.

But employees' seeing the first few hundred workers get the vaccine and not have problems has helped break that initial hesitancy as people have also returned from the holidays. Still, O'Neal said she was unable to say how long it would take to fully vaccinate all the system's employees.

Officials with Ochsner and OLOL said they were limiting doses for those 70 and older at first to patients who are already in their medical records systems in a move aimed at efficiently getting out as many doses as possible and for follow-up.

Both vaccines require two doses administered weeks apart.

"I think we all understand time ... needs to be considered in all of this. 'Cause the more people we get vaccinated, the sooner we get out of this pandemic and can go back to a more normal life," said Dr. Robert Hart, chief medical officer for Ochsner Health.

Ochsner officials said around 205,000 people 70 and older were in their health records system and that they were informing them about the available doses with the email messages. Those message were going out in batches. About 1,000 of those patients had been given doses already as of Wednesday.

Ochsner's pharmacies, however, are offering vaccines to anyone 70 and older or in the other eligible categories.

Baton Rouge General officials weren't strictly limiting their doses to patients in their system but also were only initially calling and emailing those 80,000 established patients. Parrish said the effort to reach out to those patients was being done in batches, so she urged patience.

"Demand far outpaces supply at this point," Parrish, Baton Rogue General's spokeswoman, said. "We’re very happy so many people are interested in the vaccine, but we urge them to be patient as we work through vaccinating thousands of people."

Our Lady of the Lake officials said the system's physician group alone has 59,000 people who are 70 or older and they used that list, which has available contact information, to start reaching out to patients about the vaccines.

O'Neal said people would be in Our Lady of the Lake's records system if they had previously seen one of the hospital's physicians and specialists.

Our Lady of the Lake officials didn't immediately say how many had been vaccinated on the first day at the north Baton Rouge campus, a combined primary and urgent care clinic and emergency room run in cooperation with LSU.

Uncertainty in the national vaccine distribution continues to leave hospital officials grappling with how to plan out inoculations.

Scott Wester, president and chief executive officer of Our Lady of the Lake, said he could not provide a percentage of what share of vaccines would be set aside for the elderly and others. Hospitals aren't finding out what the next allocations of new doses will be until a few days before they arrive.

"It's extremely fluid, as you can imagine," Wester said.

He said he expected to have a better idea next week about how many doses Our Lady of the Lake will be able to deliver outside the main hospital.


Email David J. Mitchell at dmitchell@theadvocate.com

Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter, @NewsieDave.