TERREBONNE PARISH, La. — Hurricane Ida took away medical services in much of the bayou parishes region, causing a lot of concern to health care providers.
In Terrebonne Parish, both main hospitals were hit hard by the storm and forced to evacuate.
More than a week later, Terrebonne General Health System’s emergency department is unable to operate, so the hospital moved it across the street. Three tents are set up in a parking lot, operating under limited hours, trying to meet the health care needs of the community.
As Hurricane Ida barreled down on Houma, parts of the hospital peeled away.
“It just blew up the roof on the top and then it started coming through the windows of the patient rooms,” said Terrebonne General Health System CEO Phyllis Peoples.
The hospital lost power and water, and with it, the ability to care for the 120 patients, 30 of them in critical care.
“We could see doors rumbling, windows breaking, and glass shattering in our patient areas,” said pulmonology and critical care physician, Dr. Andrea Lorio. “It was nerve-racking for sure.”
Dr. Lorio was caring for those patients during the storm.
“We had to move patients away from the windows, so we were moving them to central areas and in some cases out into the hallways to get away from shattered glass,” Dr. Lorio said. “I was going up and down stairwells to get to all of our different patient care areas and we could see in the stairwells water coming down and just raining down into the building.”
Once the damage was done, hospital leaders had to make a quick decision.
“We realized at that point, we had to evacuate,” Peoples said.
Within 24 hours, all 120 patients, many of them COVID patients, were sent to hospitals across the state and even into Mississippi.
“We also had little baby ICU patients, less than three pounds and above that we needed to get to safety,” Peoples said.
“That was something I was never prepared for in all of my education and training, that was intense,” Dr. Lorio said.
Unable to provide any health care, Peoples worked with staff to get medical services reestablished as quickly as possible.
“With a community this size and people coming back to look at the damage, you have to offer something,” Peoples said.
Within a week, a parking lot emergency department was seeing patients, up to 90 a day and growing. The hospital got power back Friday, but because of the damage, inpatient care isn’t possible yet.
“We do have a field hospital to help supplement those individuals, so we really are able to hand a lot and if it’s more than that we ambulance services on standby to transfer them into an alternate facility,” Peoples said.
Outpatient labs and cancer services are back operating at Terrebonne General. The health system hopes to reopen hospital clinics this week and bring back all medical services within 30 days.
“People are resilient here. We’ve got a strong Cajun culture. We don’t wait for help. We’re going to do it ourselves and my staff is amazingly reflective of that,” Peoples said.