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It'll be months before this Louisiana hospital opens back up after Ida closed it down

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

This was the scene at Lady of the Sea General Hospital in Cut Off, La., when Hurricane Ida hit over a month ago.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Oh, my God. Go. Go.

CHANG: The winds were coming fast, about 150 mph. The power went out. Storm water started streaming in. And at one point, part of the roof ripped off the building. The hospital is still closed today. All this week, we are looking at how Louisiana is faring a little more than a month after Hurricane Ida ripped through the state. Joining us now to talk about the recovery at Lady of the Sea General Hospital is Karen Collins, the CEO.

Welcome.

KAREN COLLINS: Thank you very much, Ailsa.

CHANG: So it has been a bit over a month since the storm. Can you talk about why the main hospital is still closed?

COLLINS: Well, we sustained significant damage as a result of our - the hurricane. There was openings then in the roof that caused water to seep in - flow in, actually - to various areas of the hospital, affecting every level. We have a three-story facility. It affected every level. So we are still even now, almost five weeks after the storm, still continuing to clean out parts of the walls, ceilings that have to be removed as a result of that water damage.

CHANG: Wow. So where do patients go in the meantime? - because, I mean, isn't your hospital one of only a few hospitals for miles and miles?

COLLINS: Correct. The next closest hospital to us is about 30 miles away. So currently, any patients who have emergency medical conditions or that need - require hospitalization are being transferred out of the area.

CHANG: I see. How long do you think it will be until the hospital is back at normal capacity?

COLLINS: We're anticipating that we won't be able to reopen our building for six to 12 months.

CHANG: So, I mean, given that your hospital is one of very, very few hospitals for miles and miles around, can you talk about the effect that you've already seen - your hospital being shut down - how that has affected people?

COLLINS: So it's really put a strain on the health care system in the area...

CHANG: Right.

COLLINS: ...And the need to move patients. Of course, it's a hardship for our patients. Anyone who has to be moved out of the area for their health care and hospitalization is going to cause undue burdens on that family. Travel is difficult. We have many community members here who have had their homes damaged or destroyed. I don't think there's a home here that hasn't been affected by the hurricane. So anything - any types of travel or movement for patients out of the area are a challenge.

CHANG: So how far away are these patients being transferred at the moment? How far away do family members have to travel?

COLLINS: Initially after the storm, things are improving slowly here. But we went for a few weeks with very limited gas supplies. We just - I think last week we finally got electricity to the entire area, which is four weeks. They just lifted the boil water advisory for the southern part of this area last week. And we are still struggling to get a cable and internet service. So even having adequate communication is a struggle. So it's really been a challenge for the entire area.

CHANG: Well, as we've been seeing these storms, you know, they are in large part fueled by climate change. These storms seem to be getting stronger. But it's not like your hospital can just pick up and move elsewhere because, as we've been talking about, this area depends so much on your hospital. Do you think the building can survive another storm as big as Ida again?

COLLINS: Yes. I mean, the hospital was built in, actually, 1978, built to withstand hurricane-force winds. I actually have been here at the hospital since 1982 and have ridden every storm out here. And so we - this has been an unusual experience with a storm of this magnitude. Always an area of concern is our levee system. So we are actually surrounded by a ring levee system, which has been a work in progress. So we really feel protected, although it's, of course, always a area of concern when you have a strong storm.

CHANG: You mentioned that you have been at this hospital since the '80s. Have you personally seen anything like Hurricane Ida in your area before?

COLLINS: No, we actually haven't. This was by far the strongest storm that has hit this area and caused this type of damage. This area stayed in the eastern eyewall for many hours with sustained 150 mph winds, so it caused really significant damage to the area. As I said before, we've been - had to ride (ph) kids from other hurricanes as well as hurricanes that passed nearby and still caused some damage. But the hospital has never seen this kind of damage, as well as the whole - the rest of the community.

CHANG: That is Karen Collins, CEO of Lady of the Sea General Hospital.

Thank you so much for joining us today, and best of luck to you.

COLLINS: Thank you very much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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