Ochsner Using In-House Testing, 3D Printing and More to Fight Pandemic

2020 03 23 Covid 19 In House Testing Lab Team
The team from the Ochsner's molecular microbiology laboratory: (L to R) Tong Yang MD- Molecular Genetic Pathologist; Andrea Linscott Ph.D, D(ABMM)- Clinical Microbiologist; Earlene Goens MT(ASCP)- Director, Laboratory Operations; Luke J. Caruso MT MLS (ASCP) - Senior medical laboratory scientist, molecular microbiology laboratory

NEW ORLEANS — In a March 25 media briefing, Ochsner Health CEO Warner Thomas and Chief Medical Officer Robert Hart provided the latest information on how Louisiana’s largest health system is handling COVID-19.

Thomas said that between patients who have been confirmed positive and those who are under investigation, Ochsner is currently treating 562 people statewide.

“Staffing is probably the biggest issue,” he said, quickly adding that admissions overall for the organization are fortunately down.

“Our clinic visits are down 40 percent, so other pieces of the healthcare system have essentially stopped or slowed significantly,” said Thomas, “and we redeployed a lot of those personnel and people to take care of COVID patients.”

On the question of whether healthcare workers have the protective equipment they need, Thomas and Hart acknowledged that masks and gowns were being reused in the safest way possible.

“It’s a situation where we have orders coming in daily or weekly,” said Hart.

Overall, however, Thomas said he feels confident in Ochsner’s supply.

“Today, we feel like we’re in in good shape,” he said. “We are being conservative in how we use the protective gear. But we are also, I think, holding our own and keeping up with the volume of demand from patients.”

Thomas reported that Ochsner was receiving help from regional companies who have retooled to provide supplies, specifically noting the efforts of local breweries to produce hand sanitizer.

“I think we’re getting something like 10,000 bottles of about 10 to 12 ounces of hand sanitizer, so that’s been a big deal.”

Ochsner is also working with local clothier NOLA Couture to make protective gowns. 

“They’ve worked with our staff on the design so they’re starting to produce those now,” Thomas said. “We’ll be getting thousands of those within the next couple of days.”

Ochsner is also working internally to fill supply needs. A team called Innovation Ochsner is currently using 3D printing technology to create face shields.

“Hundreds of those are being produced now,” Thomas said.

Another big question Thomas and Hart fielded regarded Ochsner’s supply of ventilators and ICU beds. To that end, the hospital system announced that within the next two weeks it will be adding 96 ICU beds at the Ochsner Medical Center campus on Jefferson Highway and 12 new ICU beds at its campus in Kenner. Thomas said Oschner placed an order for about 200 ventilators a few weeks ago in anticipation of the increased need. The cost of a ventilator, according to Ochsner, ranges from $40,000 to $45,000.

“We’re starting to get some of those in, so we can redeploy them in our system,” he said.

Thomas and Hart said that under normal circumstances approximately 30% of patients in the ICU are using ventilators. That number is now up to 80%.

“We have 207 ventilators in use today,” said Thomas. “We have about another 100 that are ready to go into use should we need them right now. We anticipate another 100 for the future expansion of the ICU beds. We think we’re in good shape right now, but as more patients go into the ICU, we’re going to watch that carefully.”

Regarding testing, Thomas noted that Ochsner was the first organization to bring testing in house.

“We started doing that last Saturday,” he said. The ability to process tests on site means a significantly lower wait time for results. Instead of 5 to 7 days, results are processed within 24 hours. 

“On Monday we processed almost 600 tests, and on Tuesday almost 700 tests,” said Thomas of Ocshner’s statewide efforts. “We think by the beginning of next week we could be doing a thousand tests a day.” With the opening of Ochsner’s fourth testing machine in the state in Shreveport — anticipated for mid next week — that number, they said, would likely reach 1,400 to 1,500 tests a day.

Thomas added that Ochsner is currently working with vendors to obtain recently FDA-approved tests that are able to provide results in 45 minutes.

“The good news is we already have the machines needed to process those,” Hart said, “we just need the testing kits.”

So far, about 60 care providers in the Ochsner system have tested positive for COVID-19.

“Once again,” said Thomas. “You gotta remember this is out of thousands and thousands of people that are employed in our organization. “We had approximately 300 people who were quarantined for safety reasons.”

Thomas ended the briefing with a call for continued social distancing.

“[It is] absolutely helping us reduce some of the spread,” he said.


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