‘When It Starts Getting Into Your Local Hospital, It Becomes Real’

The folding chairs outside the windows appeared late last month, after the maintenance staff at St. James Parish Hospital labeled each window with a patient room number so families and friends could at least see their loved ones battling COVID-19.

Yet even this small solace the Louisiana rural hospital can offer is tainted for clinical nurse educator Leslie Fisher. She has to remind the family members to take shifts to properly social distance from one another — even when their loved ones could be in their final moments.

The difficult conversations feel unceasingly cruel, she said, but she feels she has an obligation to protect these people, too. All she can do is look them in the eyes and say, “I’m so, so sorry.”

This is the new normal for St. James Parish Hospital, a 25-bed rural hospital about 45 minutes from pandemic hot spot New Orleans. Its county — or parish, as they’re called in Louisiana — of 22,000 residents had confirmed more than 175 cases and six deaths as of Tuesday. That earns it the horror of being one of the hardest-hit counties nationwide for cases per capita, placing its rural hospital that sits just blocks off the east bank of the Mississippi River onto the front lines with a continuous swell of patients.

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