Ochsner increasing testing and ICU beds; shifting staff to cover shortages

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Ochsner Health System says it’s continuing to increase testing and ICU bed space as well as ordering more ventilators and supplies as the number of COVID-19 patients rise in the state. 

President and CEO Warner Thomas said on a press call this morning that while the system has enough personal protective equipment, for now, it’s using far more than average and asking health care providers to reuse protective gear on the same patient. 

As of this morning’s call, Ochsner had roughly 562 total confirmed and suspected COVID-19 patients across its system. Of those, 271 have been confirmed positive, Thomas says. 

Specific data on the number of patients hospitalized at the Baton Rouge campus was not available.  

Within the Ochsner organization itself, Thomas says about 60 people have tested positive for the virus, while another 300 remain quarantined for “safety reasons.”

As of noon today, the Louisiana Department of Health is reporting 75 cases and three deaths in East Baton Rouge Parish, and 1,795 cases and 65 deaths statewide. 

Ochsner has also begun reassigning staff, moving clinic nurses (who have seen a 40% decrease in patients), surgeons, physicians and anesthesiologists—all led by critical care and ICU doctors—to help care for COVID-19 patients. 

“Everybody is working to take care of these patients,” Chief Medical Officer Dr. Robert Hart says. 

The pandemic comes at a time when the health care sector was already experiencing a staffing shortage and is the system’s biggest issue, Thomas notes. 

In response, Ochsner has ramped up hiring in the region and reached out to national agency firms to bring in nurses during the pandemic.

Those two measures should cover the anticipated beds for the next two weeks, Thomas says. 

The hospitals are planning to deploy roughly 100 new ICU beds in the New Orleans area. Officials did not say if any of those beds would be coming to Baton Rouge. 

When asked for clarification, a spokesman said, “it is being worked on throughout the system.” 

Those 100 beds are part of a larger order of 200 that was placed two weeks ago and are starting to come in, Thomas says. 

A little over 200 ventilators are in use today with another 100 available. An additional 100 are expected to be delivered as ICU bed space expands. 

“I think we’re in good shape from a ventilator perspective right now,” Thomas says. 

However, at a news conference this afternoon, Gov. John Bel Edwards stressed the state is, in fact, expecting a severe shortfall in ventilators. 

“Ventilator capacity is far from OK in Louisiana,” Edwards said, calling it the “most significant near-term issue.”

The state is distributing 100 new ventilators in New Orleans today, he says, with 100 expected tomorrow and another 100 expected early next week. But even with those 300 new ventilators, the New Orleans area is still expected to be 600 short, Edwards says, not counting the needs in Baton Rouge, Shreveport and other parts of the state. 

While overall and ER admissions have fallen, Thomas and Hart say the hospitals are still filling up as a larger number of ICU patients are on ventilators and have extended stays of between 10 and 14 days. 

Typically, about 30% of ICU patients are on ventilators, but with the respiratory problems caused by the coronavirus, that has risen to about 80%, Thomas says. 

After launching in-house testing late last week, Ochsner says it processed 600 tests Monday, followed by another 700 on Tuesday. Officials expect testing to reach 1,400 or 1,500 a day by the time a second testing site is launched in Shreveport later next week. 

In-house testing allows for same-day results, compared with a five- to-seven-day waiting period from outside sources. 

That has two large benefits, Hart says. One, it gives patients peace of mind. And two, it helps with messaging about when a patient needs to self-quarantine. 

It also gives relief to providers, who can spend less time dealing with personal protective protocols when a patient tests negative. 

While they believe social distancing has had an impact, Thomas says, “We anticipate we’ll have COVID patients through the remainder of the year, just certainly at lower levels than where we are today.”

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