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From providing residents with hot meals and cleaning supplies to utilizing its mobile health unit to provide healthcare to those in hard hit areas, Access Health Louisiana kept the safety of its staff and patients at the forefront of its Hurricane Ida response. AHL operates the St. Charles Community Health Centers in Luling and Norco and serves as the parish health unit. They also operate the Albert Cammon Wellness Center and J.B. Martin/R.J. Vial Wellness Center, both of which serve students during the school day. Alongside other businesses, AHL initiated its Emergency Operations Plan as Hurricane Ida grew in size over the Gulf of Mexico and its projected track included southeast Louisiana.
“Vaccines were relocated for safety purposes, staff evacuated or hunkered down at home and employees were communicated with throughout the storm to ensure everyone’s safety,” Assistant Vice President of Marketing and Development Chenier Reynolds-Montz said. “After the hurricane passed through the state … leadership worked rigorously to assess damage at community health center sites, check on the whereabouts and safety of staff and get operations back up and running.”
Within two weeks of the storm, AHL resumed 50-percent of its clinical operations while providers worked remotely with patients to refill or transfer prescriptions and conduct telemedicine visits for medical or behavioral health care.
“As a St. Charles Parish resident myself, I knew our families would be needing medication refills, especially those with chronic illnesses,” AHL Pharmacy Director Stephanie Thompson said. “Our focus in the pharmacy was getting operational so we could help our neighbors get the medications they needed after the storm. The first week after the storm, we worked remotely mostly assisting with prescription transfer requests for those who evacuated.”
The AHL pharmacy reopened on Labor Day week with limited hours for in-person pickup and limited free home delivery of medications. “Due to storm debris, our courier was doing everything possible to meet up with patients and give them their medications,” Thompson said. “We all worked hard doing what it needed to take to get people they help they needed. “ Reynolds-Montz said some providers and staff worked from hotel rooms or even their vehicles to help and assist patients.
“We worked tirelessly to connect providers and patients and get our pharmacy back up and running as quickly as possible,” Reynolds-Montz said. “Human Resources worked with staff who lost their homes and belongings to connect them to resources such as temporary shelter, clothing and mental health support. Our employees are helping to support one another by donating clothing, furniture and even paid time off to their co-workers most impacted by Ida.”
In addition to taking care of its employees and patients, Access Health Louisiana also teamed up with Good Hope Baptist Church and the American Red Cross in September to offer free hot meals and cleaning supplies from its St. Charles Community Health Center in Norco. The mobile health unit also provided medical care and prescription assistance to the community from that same location.
Additionally, Reynolds-Montz said AHL is working with St. Charles Parish President Matt Jewell’s office to send its mobile health unit to hard hit areas needing access to healthcare. The unit was stationed outside the St. Charles Community Health Center in Norco for several days assisting residents, and medical providers also joined the Louisiana Workforce Commission outside the Killona Community Center for several days.
“Most of the patients being seen in the mobile unit need help with their prescriptions or managing their chronic illnesses such as hypertension and diabetes,” Physician’s Assistant and AHL Assistant Vice President of Practice Transformation Christine McDaniel said. “It feels good connecting with these families and knowing that you are helping them as they try to recover from this devastating storm. This is what being in healthcare is all about – helping people.”
The AHL St. Charles Community Health Center, located at 843 Milling Ave in Luling, is open and operating with regular hours for in-person and telemed appointments. The AHL St. Charles Community Health Center, located at 16004 River Road in Norco, is open for telemedicine appointments only at this time due to building damage and repairs.
Reynolds-Montz said anyone needing medical assistance in St. Charles Parish should call 1-866-530-6111 to connect with a provider or schedule an appointment, including COVID testing and/or vaccines.
While AHL’s school-based clinics with reopen following the school district’s schedule, Reynold-Montz said providers continued caring for student patients from its school-based health centers by phone or telemedicine appointments and that they worked with parents to transfer prescription medications to pharmacies in the cities families were evacuated to.
Reynolds-Montz said she is proud of all AHL employees. “While almost every employee was impacted in some way by Hurricane Ida, most have returned to work helping care for patients, only to return home each night to face storm damage and repairs at their homes and children in limbo from school closures,” she said. “The impact of Hurricane Ida will be felt for many months. Our job in healthcare is to be there for our patients. Louisiana families are resilient … we will come out of this stronger as a community.”