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Edgardo Tenreiro, CEO of Baton Rouge General Health System talks about details of the drive-thru testing location at Baton Rouge General's Mid-City campus for residents wanting to get tested for the novel coronavirus.

Hospitals in the Baton Rouge area say they are confident they have enough staffed hospital beds to meet patient demand, even with results not yet in for hundreds of individuals that have been tested in East Baton Rouge Parish for the coronavirus.

As of Tuesday afternoon, there were only two confirmed coronavirus cases in the region: one in Ascension Parish and another in East Baton Rouge Parish.

Baton Rouge General, with 588 licensed beds, is the first hospital in Baton Rouge to care for a coronavirus patient. The health care provider, like others contacted, said it is prepared for an influx of cases.

"We proactively drill throughout the year on different types of health care emergencies and have had previous experience in activating these plans," the hospital said in a statement. "While we are ready, we are urging the community to take this seriously. Stay home when you can, stay home when you are sick and call your doctor if you start feeling bad."

The Baton Rouge metro area has 3,510 staffed beds, which refers to the number of licensed beds that have employees dedicated to care for patients. Within that number are 338 intensive care unit beds. Hospitals also have 277 ventilation units on hand, which could be needed for severe respiratory issues triggered by the virus.

A drive-through coronavirus testing site was set up Monday through a joint effort of local hospitals at Baton Rouge General's Mid-City campus.

As testing accelerates, officials expect to see more cases.

“Given our nation’s testing capacity so far, which has focused on people who are seriously ill, we will see a fairly significant increase in the number of cases we’re finding,” said Dr. Frank Welch, medical director for the Louisiana Department of Health Immunization Program. “COVID-19 is going to become fairly prevalent in our communities,” he said. “There is going to be an eventual breaking point of the health care system.”

The hope is there isn't a large wave of very sick individuals requiring extensive care and resources. If there were 1,000 cases in Louisiana on average, the state estimates only about 20% could be sick enough for a hospital visit and may require an emergency room, ventilation or intensive unit bed.

"We want those to occur over (many) months to allow our health care capacity to handle those," Welch said.

In its effort to ease the potential burden, Louisiana has closed casinos, bars, gyms and movie theaters to help contain the spread of the coronavirus. Restaurants have been stripped of dine-in services and limited to take-out, delivery or drive-through service.

Separately, national retailers have started announcing temporary store closures.

Even with all the precautions being taken, hospitals have to be prepared.

Many have already limited visitors, are funneling people through specific entrances and taking temperatures of visitors, staff and physicians.

On March 13, the state issued an alert to offer guidelines to hospitals that all patients with a fever and respiratory system issues but a negative influenza test should receive a COVID-19 test, which has symptoms similar to the flu. The state also told health care providers to conserve supplies and reagents to use only a single swab for each patient.

Baton Rouge Clinic, which is participating in the COVID-19 testing site in Mid-City, set up a drive-through for regular flu testing at its Perkins Road office. All patients need an order from their Baton Rouge Clinic physician to get a regular flu test at the Perkins Road station, open weekdays 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Patients who suspect they may need coronavirus testing should coordinate with their primary care physician if they need an order to visit a testing center, Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center said in a statement. They then should self-isolate at home, if necessary. The hospital and emergency department "should be utilized by those who have severe symptoms potentially requiring hospitalization."

While hospitals are preparing contingency plans to be prepared for an uptick in coronavirus cases, the state would announce through an executive order that crisis standards of care were in operation and alternative methods for caring for patients could be implemented. Non-urgent surgeries could be postponed to preserve supplies.

"We have specific plans for a variety of escalating scenarios, and hope we never have to use them," said a statement from the Lake. It's the largest hospital in the region with nearly 1,000 licensed beds spread across its Essen Lane campus, Our Lady of the Lake Ascension in Gonzales and Our Lady of the Lake Children's Hospital.

The Lake is coordinating with hospitals within its network about bed capacity and patient demand.

Baton Rouge General and the Lake both said they are not canceling elective surgeries or appointments.

Woman's Hospital, which has 168 licensed beds, said it is fully staffed and able to care for all of its current patients; nor does it anticipate a supply shortage.

"We are in constant communication with our vendors to ensure we maintain adequate supply levels," it said in a statement.

For Ochsner Health System, the organization has seen patients cancel existing appointments such as annual wellness visits in recent weeks, which it noted frees up staff and resources to take care of coronavirus patients. Ochsner is based in New Orleans, where the most cases have been diagnosed, but operates hospitals across the state. 

"Today, we are seeing reduced need and demand for other services as the needs and demands of coronavirus cases increases … so we have adequate capacity to care for the community," said Mike Hulefeld, chief operating officer at Ochsner Health System. 

Ochsner's Baton Rouge operations have not experienced any staffing issues; it has 162 licensed beds in the region. 

Ochsner is still working to determine its surge capacity, which refers to the measurement of ability to handle a sudden patient influx. It has enough hospital beds at this point to meet demand.

Ochsner has been evaluating every patient who walks in the door but has been limited in testing and expects to continue to be in a crunch until it begins testing in-house next week. The hospital system has begun statewide protocols for screening and isolation of any patient suspected of having coronavirus. 

“We’re in the planning process as we test the assumptions of how broad we think the disease will be in our community. There’s still work ongoing,” Hulefeld said.

Some elective surgeries and medical procedures are still scheduled, especially for patients who have chronic illnesses or whose condition would deteriorate without routine care. 

No general visitors are allowed to visit patients at Ochsner facilities across the state, with few exceptions such as if the patient is dying. Of the limited visitors, no more than one visitor is permitted each day. Essential visitors may be a partner for pregnant women in labor, parents for neonatal care unit patients or intensive care unit patients and one caregiver for infusion patients. No visitors with respiratory issues or exposure to COVID-19 may enter the health care system except patients. 

Those are the most restrictive visitor policies across hospitals in the region as others have allowed no more than two visitors at a time and some have restricted visitors under the age of 18. 


Email Kristen Mosbrucker at kmosbrucker@theadvocate.com.