Dr. William Cefalu Jr., right, chairs a St. Mary Hospital Service District No. 2 meeting in this December photo. Also shown is board attorney Bill Bourgeois.
The Daily Review/Bill Decker
Hospital district OKs ventilator purchase for Ochsner St. Mary
St. Mary Hospital Service District No. 2 is preparing for a potential wave of COVID-19 cases by agreeing to purchase five ventilators for Ochsner St. Mary in Morgan City during its special meeting Wednesday night.
Board Chairman Dr. William Cefalu Jr. made the announcement Thursday around noon that five ventilators had been purchased through Ochsner Health System at a total cost of around $200,000.
The ventilators, which have not arrived yet, will be reserved for Ochsner St. Mary when they do arrive.
“What that will allow us to do here locally is ensure that all eight rooms in our ICU will have ventilator capability, so if someone does get critically ill, we’ll be able to utilize our ICU to its full capacity for patients who need ventilator assistance,” Cefalu said.
The move is in anticipation of an increase in COVID-19 cases, which Cefalu anticipated will come no later than two weeks from now.
As of noon Thursday, St. Mary Parish had five cases, according to the state’s Office of Public Health.
“The nature of this virus and how easily it’s transmit-ted basically ensures that we’re going to see more cases,” Cefalu said. “I’ve been in touch with local officials, the Coroner’s Office, etc., and we’re anticipating our local surge, so to speak, within a week or two, and I believe that to be accurate. Just as there’s no reported cases in some parishes, I can guarantee you they’re there.”
Cefalu noted that the area now is beginning to do more testing, too.
“We just haven’t had the capabilities, especially in offices, to perform the num-ber of tests needed to really truly screen for the disease, so that in and of itself is going to bring our case rate up quite a bit,” Cefalu said.
With the ventilators ordered, the hospital now has 22 and emergency backup ventilator systems.
“If you assume that about 20% of hospitalized patients with this disease will require one of those ventilators, if we in St. Mary Parish get to a number of around 400 con-tracting the disease, all those ventilators will be utilized,” Cefalu said.
That’s why he stressed the importance of social distancing to not put a strain on ventilators as well as staffing.
Cefalu said the hospital currently has about 20 pa-tients, and they have enough staffing to care for 50-60 patients.
“But we’re stretched out pretty thin, then,” he said if the hospital reached the 50-60 patient threshold.
Cefalu said the hospital currently is as prepared, staffing wise, as it can be.
“We’re fortunate enough to have a large building and we can certainly accommodate much more than that (50-60 patients) if we had the staffing to do so,” he said.
Cefalu noted that this area is at an elevated risk than other communities as it has high rates of smoking, obesity and cardiovascular disease.
“I would say we’re probably on par with New Orleans as far as risk fac-tors,” he said.
Cefalu said Ochsner has backup supplies such as ventilators and personal protective equipment in New Orleans that will be distributed as needed.
However, he said that Ochsner St. Mary has the personal protective equip-ment it needs right now.
“We are already instituting measures to prolong its use,” he said. “We are reusing masks for the same patients and things such as that. In anticipation of a surge, we want to make sure we have plenty of supplies.”