By Angel Albring, BIZ. Magazine
As Ochsner Health is recovering from Hurricane Ida, officials say that COVID-19 hospitalizations are down and thousands of surgeries have been rescheduled.
Ochsner’s Chief Operating Officer Mike Hulefeld said the system’s southeast Louisiana facilities have made “great progress” in reopening clinics and rescheduling the nearly 80,000 clinic visits that had to be rescheduled due to the hurricane and ensuing damage.
Now that post-hurricane recovery efforts have restored power to most facilities and COVID-19 cases are declining, these visits can proceed, but Hulefeld cautioned that it could be “weeks to months” before all facilities are caught up.
One bright spot, according to Ochsner President and CEO Warner Thomas, is the declining number of positive COVID-19 cases in Ochsner hospitals: there are 386 patients currently hospitalized for COVID-19 across the health system, down from 486 a week ago. There were 1,009 COVID hospitalizations at Ochsner facilities a month ago, he said.
As of Thursday, there are 1,431 people hospitalized for COVID-19 statewide, 87 percent of which are unvaccinated, according to the Louisiana Department of Health.
Thomas said more than 5,000 surgeries and procedures are now being rescheduled, after having to be postponed due to hurricane Ida and COVID-19 cases resurging.
COVID-19 testing, vaccinations and monoclonal antibody treatments are now fully operational at all sites, except those in St. Charles Parish, he added, as healthcare workers and officials attempt to “double down on efforts” to fight the virus.
In another effort to help recover from COVID-19, Warner said that they are urging employees to be vaccinated, and, as of this morning, 81 percent are fully vaccinated, which is up from 69 percent in August.
The number of Ochsner’s healthcare workers in quarantine for COVID-19 has dropped from around 500 to 110, Thomas said.
The vaccination mandate goes into effect on Oct. 29 for those who do not have a valid medical or religious exemption.
Thomas said they’ve received between 150 and 200 requests for a medical or religious exemption, which are under review, out of the system’s approximate 32,000 employees. Employees who aren’t vaccinated by the deadline without an approved exemption will be suspended for 30 days and have an opportunity to get vaccinated. If they fail to do so, they’ll be “asked to leave.”
Thomas said that Ochsner doesn’t want to lose staff, but they have no choice but to mandate vaccinations in order to protect patients, adding that all medical facilities who wish to participate in the Medicare and Medicaid programs must have a vaccination requirement in place, per federal requirements.
“We can’t avoid it. It’s going to have to be done, and frankly, it should be done,” he said.
He said the hospital system hires a “few hundred people a week, roughly” and that if they were to lose medical staff he doesn’t “feel it will have a material impact on our ability to care for our patients.”
“We’ve made great progress in our vaccination process with our employees so we’re very pleased with the work being done there,” Thomas said.