Ochsner to begin in-house testing as health care system faces overload 

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Ochsner Health System is moving its COVID-19 testing in-house at its New Orleans-area medical center. Hospital officials say the new testing site is expected to be finalized within 24 to 48 hours. 

Once on line, Ochsner will be able to run between 700 and 800 tests per day and reduce turnaround time to 24 hours, from the five to eight days it currently takes, officials confirmed to Daily Report

Ochsner is currently awaiting the results of 2,200 tests. Louisiana has 479 confirmed cases of COVID-19. 

Ochsner President and CEO Warner Thomas warns, however, that a large spike in cases does not mean the spread is doubling overnight, but is the result of tests coming in that were conducted five to eight days ago. 

A major criticism of national COVID-19 response has been the time it takes to get test results and the availability of testing.

“We know how important testing is, not just the amount, but the turnaround. It informs everything we do with patients and suspected patients,” Ochsner Chief Medical Officer Dr. Robert Hart said on a press call today. 

“When (the backlog) began to become evident … we began to move into action beginning to bring that testing in-house,” Hart says. 

Just yesterday, Gov. John Bel Edwards issued a dire warning: The state’s health care system is on pace to be overwhelmed within a week. The state could be on a trajectory similar to Italy, which now has over 41,000 confirmed cases and 3,400 deaths. The first positive cases in Italy were confirmed on Jan. 30. 

Seven of Louisiana’s confirmed cases are in East Baton Rouge Parish. There have been 13 deaths statewide. 

With more rapid testing, Hart says they’ll be able to sooner identify who can go home, who can self-quarantine and prioritize hospital staff and protective equipment. 

Initially, Ochsner will be testing only at its New Orleans site, but is looking to add a second site in Shreveport next week, Thomas says. 

Ochsner will partner with other health care providers to speed up their testing as well. 

Confirmed COVID-19 patients in Baton Rouge have been hospitalized at Ochsner, Our Lady of the Lake and Baton Rouge General. 

“We’re segregating COVID patients and have dedicated teams to that area,” says Dr. Lauren Barfield, an internal medicine specialist at Our Lady Of the Lake. 

When looking at the system’s capacity, it’s about the three S’s: staffing, space and stuff, says Dr. Ralph Dauterive, Ochsner’s vice president of medical affairs. 

“When all three of those things are at capacity, then that’s when the problem really becomes a problem,” he says. 

There are 500 ventilators available between Baton Rouge’s three hospitals equipped for adult patients, Dauterive says. Most people who develop severe enough symptoms to require a ventilator stay on it for up to a week. When you have 100 ventilators occupied for five days, and new patients still coming in, it quickly backlogs the system. 

“That’s what they’re worried about,” Dauterive says.

Baton Rouge General already issued an urgent call to the community earlier this week, asking for supplies, including masks, safety goggles and nitrile gloves. 

Space is a concern that can be dealt with, Dauterive says. 

“Staffing, the issue the governor is worried about is how many of our health care workers are going to come down with the virus and we have to pull them off the line. That’s when these pandemics become real problems,” Dauterive says.

When the number of patients tested each day starts to drop off, he says, that’s when we’ll know the state has reached its peak, and the social distancing has worked. 

But that peak will likely be more of a plateau. In the meantime, limiting the flow of traffic into the hospital can preserve the people, space and equipment. 

“I just really can’t emphasize enough how amazing our teams have been. We have regular communication with providers and conference calls nightly,” Our Lady of the Lake’s Barfield says. “We’re trying to keep everybody informed and deploy people in controlled methods. 

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