LAFAYETTE, La. — Hospitals and healthcare officials in Acadiana say the region is at a very concerning point in the pandemic.
With the number of COVID-19 cases surging, hospitals are seeing the highest number of COVID patients than any previous time in the pandemic.
Officials say there are more emergency department visits, more people with COVID, and an increase in younger people getting COVID. Dr. Tina Stefanksi with the Office of Public Health Region 4 says that Acadiana is not seeing any slow down or any turn around.
"If we don't come together as a community and take care of this, we are going to see the transmission grow," Stefanski said.
Stefanski was a part of a press briefing on Wednesday with other health officials including Dr. Amanda Logue, Chief Medical Officer, Ochsner Lafayette General; Dr. Henry Kaufman, Interim Chief Medical Officer, Our Lady of Lourdes; Dr. Chuck Burnell, Medical Director, Acadian Ambulance; and Paige Hargrove, Executive Director, Louisiana Emergency Response Network (LERN).
Each provided details on what they are seeing as the state continues through its fourth surge of COVID-19.
Stefanski says that with this surge there is an increase in pneumonia associated with COVID patients. There has also been an increase in deaths, she added, saying that deaths reported in August have already exceeded the number of deaths that the state has reported monthly for any of the prior three months
"We clearly have the highest level of transmission of COVID than we've had throughout this pandemic, happening now," Stefanski said.
For Lafayette hospitals Ochsner Lafayette General and Lourdes, they are seeing the highest number of patients since the pandemic began. Each provided a look at what their hospitals are facing in this wave of COVID cases.
Dr. Henry Kaufman at Lourdes says that currently, 112 COVID patients are hospitalized at Lourdes. Of those patients, 23 are on ventilators. They are currently housing 48 ICU patients, and have taken over a whole medical floor for ICU.
There are 5 children at Lourdes with COVID, two of whom are in ICU.
"We are managing as best we can," Kaufaman said.
Of the patients in hospital, 94 percent are unvaccinated. ICU patients are all unvacinated except for one who was an organ transplant patient, he says.
The ER and Urgent Care at Lourdes is seeing record numbers of people seeking COVID testing. Kaufman says the hospital is accommodating as best they can to provide space and staffing for antibody infusion and testing.
Because of the overwhelming response to testing, there mobile units are being utilized.
Elective surgical procedures at Lourdes have been deferred, which would include people with serious illness not needing immediate care. So far, 400 major surgeries have been deferred.
Currently the hospital is in Phase 6 of their 7-phase surge plan. The next phase, 7, is crisis of care plan. They are expecting to reach Phase 7 by August 15. Phase 7 will be when the patient count reaches 120.
"We will manage in find ways to care for the patients we have, but it will not be to the standards we are used to," he said. "We are operating under extraordinary strain based on our resources. We have limited options and resources to care for patients."
Dr. Amanda Logue with Ochner Lafayette General provided a similar outlook for the hospital going forward.
Right now, there are 146 patients in OLG's hospitals with COVID. She said 91 percent of COVID patients are unvaccinated with 10 on ventilators.
The age range for patients is as young at 20 through age 60. The average age of patient is 54 years old with mostly younger people making up the majority of cases. The average mortality age is 53 years old. That is a 20 year drop from the last COVID surge.
There are no pediatric patients in those hospitals, she says, however high numbers of children are sick and being seen.
Surgeries at OLG also have been deferred. Around 100 to 110 surgeries per week, Logue estimates.
"These are not elective procedures, these are procedures that can wait for some time, but not forever," Logue said. "We don't know when we be able to get them in."
Wait times at OLG's ER is immense, she says, with wait times pushing nearly 10 hours. Most are there to get tested for COVID-19.
"People see the crowd of patients and leave," she says. "We are trying to get people through and as fast as we can."
She reminds the public that there are other options for COVID testing beyond going to a hospital.
There are four sites that are offering monoclonal antibody infusions. Two are in Lafayette and two are in Vermilion. Logue says that referrals come in all the time for the infusions which take about 20 minutes to administer to patients who are positive for COVID-19.
These patients will be given an infusion which requires a nursing staff. After the infusion nurses monitor the patients for any side effects and answer any questions.
"We can get through 40 to 50 people a day if we have the staff to do it," Logue says.
OLG, after requesting federal relief, say they expect a team as soon as next week to open up more beds on the main Ochsner Lafayette campus.
"We will take the help. We need the community to continue on the path to increase vaccinations and masking," she said.
On crisis care, Logue says that they have a little more room but they are still feeling the pressure in their smaller campuses. Transferring patients are almost not existent.
"When the main campus is full, we have no options in our own system."
There is a daily discussion about what can be done, they would look to stopping surgeries and also possibly shutting down clinics to utilize staff from those facilities, she says.
"It is not how we run, not the same level of care for our patients," Logue said.
Chuck Burnell with Acadian Ambulance says that within the region, off loading times have increased along with a diminished number of teams to respond to emergencies.
Many transports, he says, are COVID positive patients which involves increased decontamination times for ambulances.
The Air division of Acadiana is also traveling further and longer as transports are becoming strained across the state.
"We have had to offer mutual aid, which puts a strain on us, as we have to pull in teams from Texas and Arkansas. They are busy but not as busy as we are here."
Call volume is up 30 percent, he says.
Burnell says that crisis care, which would implement a tiered response where patients that don't meet criteria for hospital transport would be treated on scene, has yet to be implemented in the state, but they are close.
"Understand the types of situations we are dealing with," he says. "Your healthcare is being overwhelmed."
Paige Hargrove with Louisiana Emergency Response Network says that they handle time-sensitive illness to get patients to where they should go, including routing patients to the appropriate hospital.
The fourth surge has been the most difficult, she says, as they are seeing that it is difficult to get patients in to hospital because they are overburdened. Call center volume has also increased.
In response to a question relating to children going back to school, Dr. Stefanski says that children should be wearing masks.
"We want kids to stay in school and the best way to have that happen is for children to wear masks," she said. "We need the parents' support."
Most kids, she says, will be okay. Stefanski says that most children recover from COVID infections but "the mask, which we know works, is a priority."
On vaccine authorization, Dr. Stefanski says that she is unsure if the full approval of a vaccine will help increase vaccination but she says the discussion should push people to get vaccinated.
"Don't let the Emergency Use Authorization or full authorization delay your vaccination," Stefanski said.
Ochsner Lafayette General and Lourdes officials say they hope that if anything, authorization will help get someone vaccinated. Only 35 percent of residents in the state have received a full vaccination.
"You will either get COVID or be vaccinated," Kaufman said.
Stefanski says that while she does not make decisions on "mitigation measures" for the state including lock downs, restrictions, or mandates, she says the solution is out there.
"We are not helpless in this pandemic, we have a way out through vaccination," she said.
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