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Ochsner Health leaders warn hospitalizations escalating, worst still to come


SHREVEPORT, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – The President and CEO of the Ochsner Health System is warning that the “very big escalation” they hospital system has seen over the past several days in Louisiana is just the beginning of a massive influx still to come from holiday parties and New Year’s gatherings.

Amid a third surge of the COVID-19 pandemic across the state, Oschner Health CEO Warner Thomas said in a briefing Wednesday morning that “the hospital system has seen a 40 to 50-patient increase in just the past ten days, and that they’re just seeing the influx from Thanksgiving now.

“This is not even the Christmas spike yet,” said Chief Medical Officer Robert Hart, MD. “This is all the pre-Christmas and holiday parties that we know were going on. We still have Christmas and New Year’s ahead of us and that’s what the public needs to understand.”

Hart said they have seen the volume of COVID admissions double across the system over the last month, and that it has risen by about 200 cases over the past two weeks.

That’s why System Medical Director, Infection Control & Prevention, Katherine Baumgarten, MD, said it is critical that people continue to wear masks and social distance.

“This isn’t restaurants,” said Thomas, who said he believes they are for the most part adhering to restrictions. Instead, he said, “It’s private parties, a lot of private functions that are driving this, and we’ve just got to have folks be extra careful. The damage is already done. We’re just going to see how much it is going to escalate over the next couple of weeks.”

Thomas said the hospital system has not seen levels like this since last April, “and the speed is pretty significant.”

The health system leaders said they are “looking at opportunities to expand if things continue to escalate.” That includes exploring ways to expand the number of beds and bring in additional staff.

Hart said said surgeons will be asked next week to not schedule non-emergency surgeries for anyone who might have to be admitted to the hospital as a result.

They are also working with staff on overtime and extra shifts, and the system has brought in some traveling nurses. He said the system has ramped that up over the last couple of weeks and is continuing to look for more staffing but there are no plans to call in retired medical workers. Rather, Thomas said, they will be looking to nurses and other medical personnel who work in other areas of the system. Anesthesiologists, for example, have training in critical care and can help with critical care patients.

The briefing comes as the number of hospitalizations for COVID-19 around Louisiana is poised to surpass the all-time high reached at the peak of the pandemic in April.

Hospitalizations in Northwest Louisiana passed the previous all-time high of 299 in early December and have continued to rise to new heights daily since Christmas, reaching 375 as of Monday.

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