With hospital beds quickly filling up, workers being forced to ration critical supplies like N95 masks and Gov. John Bel Edwards warning federal officials that a rising tide of coronavirus patients will likely overwhelm the New Orleans area’s hospital systems by April 4, Louisiana’s health care workers are bracing for chaos.
Newly released Louisiana Department of Health figures from Tuesday evening show that ICU bed capacity is lacking across the state. But it is particularly concerning in Orleans, Jefferson, St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes, where coronavirus cases have been clustered and where just 15% of adult ICU beds are still available. In those parishes, there are 429 adult ICU beds total, while 65 are free.
Statewide, just 29% of adult ICU beds are now available, but no region has more than 50% of adult ICU beds free. The state is in better shape when it comes to total bed counts, with nearly half of total beds free across the state.
Louisiana’s COVID-19 death toll climbed to 46 on Tuesday, and the number of known coronavirus cases reached 1,338. Of those patients, 20% were hospitalized and 94 required ventilators. The state’s ventilator capacity is still OK, with every region still having more than half of its ventilators available, according to the state’s data.
More than a dozen health care workers on the front lines of the crisis say they are scrambling to treat a steady influx of patients while already short on supplies and feeling the crunch on ICU space. Of the hospitals in New Orleans, Ochsner seems to be adding patients most rapidly, according to people who work there, health care workers at other hospitals and political officials.
The workers spoke with The Times-Picayune | The Advocate on the condition that their names not be published since the hospitals they work in all have policies requiring that media inquiries be handled by communications specialists.
One ICU nurse at Ochsner told a reporter that her years of critical care experience didn’t prepare her for the waves of coronavirus patients who have filled her unit in less than a week.
“The first night I worked where the entire unit was COVID patients, I got into my car and started bawling,” said the nurse. “When I tell you it’s like a war zone up there, that’s kind of putting it easy.”