FMOL staff rallies as waters rise; health system comes through for staff in aftermath

October 1, 2016


With about 18 percent of its workforce directly impacted by a historic summer flood in southern Louisiana, the Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health System has been focused for weeks on meeting the needs of those staff members at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge, La.; Our Lady of Lourdes Regional Medical Center in Lafayette, La.; St. Elizabeth Hospital in Gonzales, La.; and numerous clinics and corporate offices.

Peter Guarisco, vice president of mission for the health system, said of the mid-August disaster, "At the same time hospital staff were caring for patients, they were receiving calls from family regarding the status of their own homes. Their spirit and willingness to serve was inspiring."

Leaders from across Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center direct operations in the Baton Rouge, La., hospital's flood command center, which stayed open around-the-clock for a week at the height of historic flooding in August.

The health system has been providing affected staff with monetary aid, help obtaining necessities, a resource center to assist with the logistics of recovery, spiritual and emotional support and other assistance.

Widespread impact
According to Associated Press coverage, as much as 2 feet of rain fell in parts of Louisiana on Aug. 12 and 13, causing widespread flooding that "has been described as the worst disaster in the U.S. since Superstorm Sandy struck the East Coast in 2012." Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards estimates the flooding caused more than $8.7 billion in damage. Edwards said more than 55,000 houses in Louisiana sustained damage; and an estimated 80 percent of homes lacked flood insurance coverage, because most of the homes were outside the 100-year floodplain. There was more than $2.2 billion in damages to businesses' property and more than $110 million in damages to agriculture, said the governor. He has requested $2 billion in federal aid.

Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center spokeswoman Lauren Davidson, whose home was significantly damaged in the flood, said, "People from every background, every race, every religion are facing total losses, many with no flood insurance to help them because they were not living in an area where it was required."

Code gray
Our Lady of the Lake, Our Lady of Lourdes and St. Elizabeth went into disaster response mode Aug. 13, issuing a "code gray," or an alert to a weather event with the potential to impact health care delivery. The hospitals opened 24-hour command centers staffed by leadership from departments throughout the hospitals.

According to information from Davidson, the average patient volume in the emergency departments of the three hospitals swelled during this time. At Our Lady of the Lake, the emergency department saw an increase from 300 to nearly 400 patients per day.

Davidson said, "The flooding impacted many individuals' ability to access their usual medications or treatments. As a result, each of the hospitals treated many patients for conditions that resulted from not having necessary items like blood pressure medication or dialysis treatments."

A debris pile grew daily outside the home of Lauren Davidson of Baton Rouge, La., during clean-up from mid-August flooding. Davidson is a spokesperson for Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center of Baton Rouge, and she is among the 2,288 staff members of Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health System and its facilities directly impacted by southern Louisiana flooding. The health system is helping its employees recover.

Valiant response
All of the hospitals stayed dry, but, the freestanding emergency room of Our Lady of the Lake Livingston in Walker, La., was completely surrounded by water during the flooding and only accessible by boat. That stand-alone emergency department's staff worked with the U.S. Coast Guard and Louisiana National Guard to helicopter in supplies. Several FMOL clinics, primary care offices and other outpatient sites closed temporarily due to flooding. Some of them used mobile clinics to provide care; others offered their providers' services at FMOL hospital locations.

At Our Lady of the Lake's Baton Rouge hospital, nearly 700 team members worked 12- to 18-hour shifts "only to later bed down in our conference rooms and other available spaces to rest before the next shift," Davidson said.

FMOL said 2,288 of its staff were directly impacted by the floodwaters. The system is helping them obtain clothing, supplies, generators, housing and other necessities. FMOL either is acquiring the items directly, through partnerships with outside vendors or through donations, according to Davidson.

Employees get the items at a FMOL warehouse, from a Team Member Clothing Closet or from other colleagues delivering the items to them. The health system set up an intranet page where staff can post items they need or items they want to donate, and it has been sending out regular staff emails with updates on available supplies and how to get them. It connected impacted team members with house gutting specialists and volunteers, and opened a day camp to help watch their children. The Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady sisters sheltered several team members at their convent, which is collocated with the health system headquarters in Baton Rouge. That congregation sponsors the health system.

Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Baton Rouge has been assisting FMOL with team member aid by providing a case manager to the hospitals. That case manager was still on-site — primarily at Our Lady of the Lake — and supporting the three impacted hospitals as Catholic Health Worldwent to press.

Help for the heart
Guarisco said tending to the significant emotional and spiritual needs of patients, staff and visitors who have suffered terrible loss in the flooding is a priority for the health system.

Staff can access the system's employee assistance program and are being encouraged to call or stop by pastoral care if they wish to speak with a chaplain. "The pastoral care team was also given referrals to see specific team members that managers knew were having a tough go," Guarisco said.

Pastoral care team members increased their availability to staff, patients and the public as floodwaters rose and in the aftermath. Chaplains were present more hours than usual in the chapel and on the floors. They have since resumed normal working hours.

Though operations at the affected hospitals, clinics and other facilities have returned to normal, Guarisco said the health system is continuing to assist with ongoing needs, especially those of staff. Guarisco said, "The Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health System finds it a privilege to be able to serve our community during this most recent disaster, and we hope that we continue to be a healing presence as we move forward."

How to help health system staff

A Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health System monetary assistance fund for employees impacted by August flooding had collected about $500,000 as Catholic Health World went to press.

To learn more about the fund or to donate, visit

According to Peter Guarisco, FMOL's vice president of mission, the funds will go to those employees most in need of support beyond a gift FMOL already has given them. That $1,000 gift came from a separate system fund.


Copyright © 2016 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3477.

Copyright © 2016 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.