Louisiana grapples with oxygen shortage after Ida

Louisiana is grappling with oxygen shortages in Ida’s aftermath

Driven by a surge in Covid-19 cases, some hospitals are relying on reserve tanks with no other backup options

A damaged business is seen after Hurricane Ida made landfall in Louisiana. Credit: Reuters Photo

Oxygen supplies are running critically low in hospitals across Louisiana — with some only having one or two days of supply left — and any interruption brought by Hurricane Ida’s destruction could be serious, according to Premier Inc., one of the largest hospital supply purchasing groups in the country.

Ida pummeled much of the state Sunday evening, leaving hundreds of thousands without power at a moment when hospitals across the Southeast had already been struggling with oxygen shortages for weeks. Driven by a surge in Covid-19 cases, some hospitals are relying on reserve tanks with no other backup options.

“This is a rapidly evolving situation with access and roads — it remains to be seen what might happen in the days ahead,” said Premier’s chief customer officer, Andy Brailo. “What we all want to avoid, obviously, is hospitals not being able to have the adequate oxygen supply for their patients or putting their patients at risk.”

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He said delivery trucks have been giving hospitals partial refills because demand had been so high. Supply is further limited because oxygen needs to be delivered within hours, meaning that supplies must come from within a 250-mile radius of a hospital, he added. Premier is coordinating with the Federal Emergency Management Agency about the scarcity of oxygen in the region.

The shortage goes beyond hospital supply. Brailo said individual canisters and tanks used by discharged Covid patients and those with disabilities were also in high demand. CrowdSource Rescue, a volunteer emergency response group, performed about a dozen oxygen-related rescues Monday, including one of a woman who was dependent on oxygen after a Covid-19 infection, said Loren Dykes, the group’s director of operations.

In the days ahead, Dykes said she expected to receive more oxygen-related distress calls, especially for Covid patients, who she said were not going to be as prepared as people with disabilities, who have more experience and tend to stockpile supplies.

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New Orleans has opened oxygen exchange sites for residents to get a full free tank of oxygen. Mike Hulefeld, chief operating officer for Ochsner Health, one of the largest hospital systems in Louisiana, said Monday that thanks to generators, hospitals were faring well. The hospital network had 10 days’ worth of supplies for the hospitals it anticipated would be hardest hit, and each of its locations had backup power and fuel.

But those who rely on ventilators or oxygen concentrators to help them breathe, including recently discharged Covid-19 patients, are also going to be at increased risk because of the power outages. According to the US Department of Health & Human Services data on Medicare beneficiaries, there are 3,706 Medicare beneficiaries in Jefferson Parish who are dependent on power for their medical devices; in Orleans Parish, 2,215 Medicare beneficiaries are medically dependent on power.

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