Water outages force hospital evacuations in Southwest Louisiana

Utilities knocked out by powerful Hurricane Laura

By: - August 28, 2020 5:48 pm

More than six dozen public water systems in Louisiana were knocked out of service when Hurricane Laura tore through the state Thursday, and the inability of those jurisdictions to provide clean water forced 10 hospitals to evacuate some or all of their patients, according to the Louisiana Department of Health.

The health department said Thursday that 47 water systems in the state were inoperable, but that number had swelled to 80 by Friday.

According to the health department’s list, nine of the 10 hospitals that moved patients out are in Calcasieu Parish and the other one is in Cameron Parish. Kevin Litten, a communications official with LDH, said that hospitals that have emergency rooms have generally remained open and that the health department is helping those hospitals move patients, providing them with bottled water and tanker trucks and connecting them with federal agencies that can provide more assistance.

For example, Litten said, the federal government can send in trauma teams to hospitals that need help keeping their emergency departments up and running safely.

Before Laura made landfall, 10 nursing homes in Calcasieu Parish evacuated a total of 779 residents, and one nursing home in Vermillion Parish evacuated 89, Litten wrote in an email.  “The majority of these patients were moved to other long-term care facilities, mostly in-state but there were also a few Texas facilities that took patients.

“As of Friday morning, a total of 40 nursing homes are operating on a generator. The nursing homes on generators are in the Acadiana region, southwest Louisiana, central Louisiana and North Louisiana.”

He said, “Water outages remain a significant issue for all residents, including those in nursing homes, returning home” and that nursing home operators “prepared for this scenario pre-storm.”

Litten referred a reporter’s questions about the number of patients that had been moved out of hospitals to the Louisiana Hospital Association, but a vice president with the association referred that reporter back to state officials.

Ocean’s Behavioral Lake Charles in Calcacieu Parish had the following message on its homepage Friday afternoon: “Due to Hurricane Laura, Oceans Behavioral Hospital Lake Charles has been evacuated. All patients are safe and have been transferred to other nearby Oceans facilities to continue their care. All intensive outpatient programs have been cancelled and our campus will be closed until it is safe to reopen. We will provide updates as the situation evolves.”

CHRISTUS Ochsner St. Patrick Hospital announced on its Facebook page that the hospital  “has sustained exterior damage to the roof, both skybridge walkways and a number of windows. Currently, the hospital is operating under backup power and implementing its secondary water supply system. The Emergency Care Centers at CHRISTUS Ochsner Health St. Patrick Hospital remains open.”

The websites for Lake Charles Memorial Hospital and Lake Charles Memorial Hospital also addressed water issues: “While the hospital sustained minimal damage, our beloved community has been hard hit. As a result of the damages to the City of Lake Charles water supply system, Memorial has limited services currently available.”

The website encouraged people wondering if missing loved ones are at Memorial to visit the website for the Louisiana Emergency Response Network, a state agency that “serve as a vital healthcare resource in the face of larger scale emergencies and natural disasters.”

The state health department listed Avail Hospital as a facility that had evacuated patients, but when he was reached by phone Friday afternoon, Dr. Dharmesh Patel, owner of Avail Hospital, said his hospital does not have running water but it does have enough bottled water to remain open.

The Louisiana Health Department’s list of hospital evacuations as of Friday afternoon:

  • Oceans Behavioral Lake Charles Adolescent, Calcasieu
  • Oceans Behavioral Lake Charles, Calcasieu
  • South Cameron Memorial/Calcasieu Behavioral Campus, Calcasieu
  • South Cameron Memorial Hospital, Cameron
  • Archer Institute of Lake Charles, Calcasieu
  • Avail Health Lake Charles Hospital, Calcasieu
  • Cornerstone Specialty Hospitals of Southwest LA, Calcasieu
  • Lake Charles Memorial Hospital for Women, Calcasieu
  • Lake Charles Memorial Hospital, Calcasieu (partial evacuation)
  • CHRISTUS Ochsner St. Patrick’s, Calcasieu (partial evacuation)

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Jarvis DeBerry
Jarvis DeBerry

Jarvis DeBerry, former editor of the Louisiana Illuminator, spent 22 years at The Times-Picayune (and later NOLA.com) as a crime and courts reporter, an editorial writer, columnist and deputy opinions editor. He was on the team of Times-Picayune journalists awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service after that team’s coverage of Hurricane Katrina and the deadly flood that followed. In addition to the shared Pulitzer, DeBerry has won awards from the Louisiana Bar Association for best trial coverage and awards from the New Orleans Press Club, the Louisiana/ Mississippi Associated Press and the National Association of Black Journalists for his columns. A collection of his Times-Picayune columns, “I Feel to Believe” was published by the University of New Orleans Press in September 2020.