Louisiana hospitals are under strain as coronavirus cases surge: Who can come to help? –

The largest hospital in Louisiana, Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge, is down to a single available intensive care bed in a troubling sign of the shortage of health care resources accompanying the second surge of coronavirus patients.

Hospital resources, particularly the nurses and other professionals needed to staff intensive care units, are being strained in nearly every one of the state’s nine Department of regions, according to hospital leaders and health department data. In addition to rising numbers of coronavirus patients arriving for treatment, health care providers say they are also seeing higher-than-normal demand from patients with other ailments, potentially because those patients have delayed treatment amid the pandemic.

Louisiana saw a similar surge in hospital usage in April. But at the time, most of the demand for beds was in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, which allowed resources and medical personnel to be shifted from other parts of Louisiana — and neighboring states — to help handle the caseload. This time, coronavirus cases are growing across Louisiana even as other states, including Texas and Florida, are battling their own massive outbreaks, dimming the prospects that help could be on the way.

“There’s not a part of the state that can assist. When one part of the state surges there isn’t anyone who can come to the rescue,” said Dr. Catherine O’Neal, chief medical officer at OLOL. “Everybody’s too busy, who can come to help? If we’re all going to peak at the same time, it’s just unfathomable how we’re going to take in more patients.”

The Louisiana Dept. of reported 2,179 more coronavirus cases, 24 more deaths and 12 more hospitalizations in its daily noon update Friday.

The Baton Rouge area was down to just 36 available ICU beds on Friday. Typically, about half that many spots would be available at OLOL alone.

O’Neal said that based on the trajectory of cases, she expects her hospital may have to start shutting down other hospital services to deal with the surge.

The 1,413 patients with the coronavirus in Louisiana hospitals is 2.5 times the amount just a month ago. While that’s still lower than the April peak of 2,134 patients with the coronavirus, both the number of cases and hospitalized patients continues to rise and new challenges are making resources scarce.

There are issues across the state. In the Lake Charles area, available ICU beds fell to 10 on Tuesday. Fewer than 20 have been available since then.  

“If the current surge continues and those numbers continue to increase, I think we are going to be very concerned,” said Dr. Lacey Cavanaugh, medical director for the Department of region that covers Lake Charles.

The Lafayette area has also been hovering around 30 available beds, roughly 18% of its total capacity. patients at Ochsner hospitals across the state have doubled in recent weeks, hospital executives said in a phone call with …

Dr. Tina Stefanski, the Department of medical director for that region, said hospitals are all into their “surge plans” and are scrambling to increase capacity.

“They are doing everything they can in order to be able to increase capacity,” she said. “We can’t keep this up…at some point, that can’t be sustained.”

Ochsner, the state’s largest hospital chain, has seen the number of coronavirus patients in its facilities across the state double in recent weeks.

The issue is not primarily one of physical space or equipment. Rather, there aren’t enough nurses and other staff to provide the intensive care that patients need. That’s particularly true for those infected with COVID-19, whose conditions can deteriorate rapidly.

And hospital resources are not being pushed to their limits by the coronavirus alone. Or at least not directly.

Cases have surged in Louisiana beyond what has been seen in any other state that saw a significant peak during the spring. The 13,954 new cases counted this week are nearly four times as many as the state tallied a month before, before significant increases began to show up.

Shortages in coronavirus test supplies and delays in receiving results have made it harder for Louisiana residents to know if they have the vi…

Compared to the spring, O’Neal said a smaller percentage of OLOL’s patients are there due to the coronavirus. However, the hospital has seen a sharp increase in the number of other patients that need treatment.

Some of those are people who had to put off major surgeries during the spring. But others appear to be individuals who may have delayed care on their own as the hospitals filled up with COVID patients, and are now suffering more serious complications that require longer stays and stretch resources more thinly, she said.

As positive coronavirus cases continue to rise across Louisiana, the number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 is soaring to levels record…

The Lake Charles area is facing its own, unique issues. It is directly competing with Houston for nurses in the area and has seen many of its medical professionals sidelined after they tested positive for COVID-19, largely due to exposure outside of the hospitals themselves, Cavanaugh said.

While the number of coronavirus deaths in the state has been rising, it has seen a much more gradual climb than cases.

Over the past two weeks, cases have increased by 64%, while the number of deaths has risen by 36%. On Friday, the health department said cases rose by 2,179 and 24 more people died. 

In part, the data may reflect the progress of the disease, which can take weeks from the date of infection to the date it finally takes a patient’s life.

Experts say the death toll from the disease may be lower this time. That’s in part because new cases have skewed younger in recent weeks and doctors have become more adept at treating the disease. 

But the increasing hospitalizations are still a cause for concern, said Dr. David Mushatt, an infectious disease expert at Tulane University.

“I do think there is reason to believe mortality will not be as high this time around,” Mushatt said. “There is still the potential to overwhelm the system. It’s just a matter of math. Even if mortality rate goes down, if you have tens of thousands of people getting sick and 20% end up in the hospital and third of that goes to the ICU, the numbers will still be very high.”

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