SHREVEPORT, La. — LSU Health Shreveport has sent a medical strike team to assist staff at a hospital in the New Orleans area.
The team consists of seven residents and emergency physician Dr. Angela Cornelius. They are currently working at West Jefferson Medical Center in Marrero.
Cornelius said the team is in good spirits, and there to meet whatever demands are necessary.
“I told them that our job here is to make your life easier,” Cornelius said. “‘You tell me what’s going to make your life easier today.’ And what works today may not have been what they needed yesterday, and what will happen in two days may not be what they need two days beyond that.”
While Cornelius described the New Orleans area — now under local and state stay-at-home orders— as a “ghost town,” she described the emergency room as “fast and furious.”
“Of the 17 calls I got yesterday, 15 of them were COVID patients and they were ranging in age from anywhere — 92 was my oldest. But there was a 28 year old,” Cornelius said. “They were all severely hypoxic and requiring oxygen, and this is just not something that you see. Like if a 28-year-old on a normal day comes in requiring oxygen, that’s a big deal and they’re liable to be headed towards ICU care and intubation.”
Cornelius said she’s having to learn a different approach to medicine through this experience.
“It’s kind of almost a paradigm shift in how we’re thinking about these respiratory patients,” Cornelius said, pointing out that her team still has adequate medical supplies. “We know that there’s a finite number of ventilators in this area. And so we are using other methods to try to get people through this without putting them on a ventilator.”
Based on Thursday’s estimates from the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals and the Office of Gov. John Bel Edwards, the New Orleans area could exceed its ventilator capacity on April 7.
Cornelius was part of a federal response team during the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak, before cases had been reported in most U.S. states and any restrictive measures were enacted to control the spread of the virus.
“I think this is a much bigger thing than anybody anticipated. Even the pessimists, I think, may have under-anticipated what this may turn into,” Cornelius said. “I don’t believe in sounding inappropriate alarm bells, so in the beginning, I was like, ‘OK, we got a pocket here. We’re going to contain this. It’s going to be like SARS or MERS.”
Since then, she says, she’s changed her mind.
“If this is starting to scare me, people need to take notice because I don’t scare easily,” Cornelius said. “I work in emergency medicine. I don’t scare, and this is starting to scare me.”
Cornelius emphasized the importance of Edwards’ stay-at-home order to help save lives, particularly of the elderly or people with pre-existing medical conditions that can lessen their chances of surviving a COVID-19 infection.
“Even more frightening than that, what about your completely, totally healthy 25-year-old neighbor who gets sick with this and dies in the ICU? And we’re seeing that,” Cornelius said. “These are real cases."