Southern Louisiana was hit with back-to-back crises this past week. A public health emergency was declared in the state after Hurricane Ida made landfall on the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. The Category 4 hurricane caused power outages to over a million residents in Louisiana, with flooding south and west of New Orleans, according to Health and Human Services Secretary (HHS) Xavier Becerra.

The timing of the hurricane could not have been worse. Hospitals in New Orleans and other areas of Louisiana were already at near capacity prior to the arrival of Hurricane Ida because of a surge in COVID-19 cases, according to HHS.

Ochsner Health’s Emergency Response Plan

Ochsner Health, one of the largest health systems in Louisiana with 7 hospitals in the New Orleans area, reported that the hurricane caused roof damage and water intrusion at the main medical center on Jefferson Highway in New Orleans, but all patients remained safe and unaffected. Patients in other Ochsner Health system locations were relocated ahead of the storm to other facilities within the state. Emergency departments at all Ochsner hospitals are open.


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Hospitals in New Orleans and other areas of Louisiana were already at near capacity prior to the arrival of Hurricane Ida because of a surge in COVID-19 cases. Credit: Getty Images.

COVID-19 added another layer to Oschner’s planning and capacity. Ochsner had tried to discharge as many patients as possible ahead of the storm, but discharging COVID-19 patients who are on oxygen or ventilators was not possible. All COVID-19 units remained fully functional after the storm, according to a press release.

Oschner had 722 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 as of August 30, 2021. Another spike in COVID-19 cases is expected in the next few weeks stemming from evacuations, sheltering in large groups, and lack of access to hygiene supplies because of the hurricane, according to Oschner’s Twitter account.

Other Agencies and Organizations Act to Assist Residents

With power outages across both Louisiana and Mississippi, resources have been put in place to help in the state of emergency. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has a Disaster Distress Helpline available to help residents cope with stress during disasters. The hotline is available 24/7 and provides crisis counseling and support to those experiencing emotional distress during natural or “human-caused” disasters.

HHS also established an incident management team staged in Dallas, Texas. This was set up to provide “post-storm” coordination of federal health and mental support. “Teams from the US Public Health Service Commissioned Corps and the National Disaster Medical System who were responding to the COVID-19 surge in Louisiana and other Gulf states stand ready to pivot support the Hurricane Ida response,” HHS stated. These medical professionals will be available quickly to help health authorities and health care facilities respond to medical needs.”

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are also lending a hand to those affected by Ida. The FDA will be working with various pharmaceutical firms in the storm’s path to determine the level of impact.

The CDC is providing technical assistance to shelters to help protect residents against COVID-19. “CDC and other HHS divisions are making detailed, practical information available to help the public protect themselves from threats before, during, and after the storm,” notes HHS.

The information provided includes:

  • Preventing carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Power outage safety risks
  • Avoiding walking or driving through floodwaters
  • Ensuring safe water, medication, and food
  • Addressing mold and other health risks

Additionally, HHS Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) activated the Kidney Community Emergency Response Program, which is designed to monitor dialysis access and needs in medical centers in the aftermath of emergencies and disasters. The response program provides technical support to End Stage Renal Disease Networks and other kidney organizations to “ensure timely and efficient disaster preparedness, response and recovery for the kidney community.”

The Disaster Relief Program was activated to provide $200 emergency grants to dialysis and kidney transplant patients affected by Hurricane Ida, according to the American Kidney Fund(AKF). This relief program is the nation’s only rapid-response system that provides emergency financial assistance to dialysis and recent transplant patients.

“When disaster strikes their communities, AKF disaster relief grants help kidney patients replace lost medications and special renal diet foods, pay for temporary housing and transportation to treatment, and replace clothing and personal essentials lost due to the natural disaster or the need to evacuate with short notice,” the AKF said.

*The appearance of US Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.

References

1. Ochsner Health. Hurricane Ida information. Accessed 8/31/2021. https://news.ochsner.org/news-releases/hurricane-ida-information-2

2. Health and Human Services. HHS Secretary Becerra declares public health emergencies for states of Louisiana and Mississippi due to Hurricane Ida. Accessed August 30, 2021. https://www.hhs.gov/about/news/2021/08/30/hhs-secretary-becerra-declares-public-health-emergencies-states-louisiana-and-mississippi-due-to-hurricane-ida.html

3. American Kidney Fund. American Kidney Fund activates disaster relief program to support dialysis and post-transplant patients affected by Hurricane Ida. Accessed August 31, 2021. https://www.kidneyfund.org/news/akf-activates-disaster-relief-program-to-support-dialysis-and-post-transplant-patients-affected-by-hurricane-ida.html