MercyHealth director lends a hand in hurricane-battered Louisiana

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Sep. 15—MercyHealth EMS medical director Dr. Jay MacNeal returned to Janesville Tuesday after a two-week deployment to Louisiana to help provide medical care in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida.

MacNeal, who works with MercyHealth providers in Rock and Walworth counties—as well as in Winnebago County in Illinois—left Sept. 2 to spend 14 days working in a hospital just outside New Orleans.

As a member of the OH-1 Disaster Medical Assistance Team, one of five federal response teams that helps communities with medical, veterinary and mortuary matters, MacNeal is on call to respond to natural and manmade disasters.

Shortly after Ida made landfall, he received a call from the National Disaster Medical System requesting his assistance.

This wasn't the first time MacNeal made the trek to "The Big Easy" for work. He was there as a medical student after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the region in 2005.

"It was kind of coming full circle for me to go down (to the New Orleans-area again) as a fully functional ER doc," he said.

On this most recent trip, MacNeal was called upon to run an intensive care unit to help relieve nearby hospitals that were either overwhelmed or damaged as a result of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Ida.

The death toll caused by Ida rose to 26, with hundreds of thousands of people in New Orleans still without power, The Associated Press reported.

With no electricity to keep air conditioners running, many residents found them exposed to brutal weather conditions. "It's incredible how much (the lack of) electricity affects public health," MacNeal said.

Many patients who MacNeal treated suffered acute injuries due to the heat and lack of resources.

In addition, MacNeal said he treated a number of unvaccinated patients who had contracted COVID-19. In his ICU, which housed 16 patients, 15 of them were admitted with complications related to COVID-19, he said. Around 90% of critical patients treated in the wake of the hurricane were not inoculated, according to a press release from MercyHealth.

Both there and in the Janesville area, MacNeal said the effects of the coronavirus on people has been "absolutely gripping."

MacNeal said the grim conditions in Louisiana were easing by the time he left for home. He said the locals had a fighting spirit.

"The people down there, they are very resilient," he said. "The more people got their electricity back, the more likely we were to see healthier people."

He said morale among the residents improved markedly when their electricity was restored.

MacNeal said he was the recipient of southern hospitality and southern cooking. "They are happy to feed you their jambalaya and all those New Orleans-type foods," he said.

Overall, MacNeal said he appreciated the chance to serve the population and address their medical needs. "It's a great experience to be part of that," he said.

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