FULL EPISODE: 9/5/21 Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy & Dr. Catherine O’Neal on the damage left in Hurricane Ida’s wake

Published: Sep. 4, 2021 at 10:49 PM EDT
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Washington, D.C. – Greta Van Susteren interviewed Sen. Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-La.), and Dr. Catherine O’Neal, an associate professor at Louisiana State University’s School of Medicine and the chief medical officer at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge, about the impacts of Hurricane Ida and COVID on Louisiana, for Gray Television’s “Full Court Press with Greta Van Susteren” airing Sunday, September 5, 2021. The program will also feature a conversation with Liz Koh, an anchor and reporter at WAFB-TV in Baton Rouge.

Sen. Cassidy, who was a sponsor of the bipartisan infrastructure bill that passed the Senate last month, told Van Susteren the legislation includes money necessary to upgrade electrical grids like those that failed in Louisiana in the wake of Hurricane Ida. He also reinforced the need for enhanced broadband, particularly in emergency situations.

When asked whether fellow Republicans had done enough to encourage the COVID vaccine, Sen. Cassidy, who is a medical doctor, said the issue has “been politicized on both sides.”

“I just really encourage my fellow Louisianans, my fellow Americans, get vaccinated,” continued Cassidy. “The people who are dying are not vaccinated.”

Dr. O’Neal, whose hospital in Baton Rouge was spared by Hurricane Ida, told Van Susteren it is the COVID pandemic that has put a strain on ICU beds and medical personnel. “We’ve just never experienced this many people dying in their thirties, forties, and fifties. That’s not natural, it’s not acceptable,” said O’Neal.

Sen. Cassidy and Dr. O’Neal interview highlights are below.

Sen. Bill Cassidy Highlights

On infrastructure needs

Greta Van Susteren

The federal government spent a lot of money in Louisiana on … levees. That wasn’t the problem, is that right? It was the electrical grid in that part of New Orleans?

Sen. Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-La.)

The levees held. Sixteen years ago, George W. Bush said, “We’re going to protect this city, these parishes, with ring levees,” and they worked. And it wasn’t just levees, it’s a whole system of hurricane flood mitigation. By the way, Greta, I point out that preparation matters, but you got to start some time ago. We have an infrastructure bill right now that would harden the grid in case of natural disaster. Makes sense. What failed this time was the grid. Sixteen years from now, we don’t want to be looking back and saying, “Boy, we should have fixed the grid.” We need to start fixing that grid now.

On the supplemental disaster aid bill

Greta Van Susteren

The supplemental disaster aid bill … That’s the money that’s needed now, and urgently. Where is that, and where are your colleagues? And have you asked the leadership, “Bring everybody back, and let’s take care of this now?”

Sen. Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-La.)

So, FEMA has the money they need for the first-off relief. The disaster supplemental will come after the cities, the parishes, the state make an assessment. So they’ll make an assessment, about a month to complete assessment, month, six weeks, something like that, and say, “Listen, this is what was not already covered by FEMA.”

Sen. Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-La.)

By the way, Southwest Louisiana got hit a year ago. We’re still waiting for that disaster supplemental. It is not a given it happens quickly, and we’re still pushing there.

Sen. Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-La.)

I’ve received assurances that there will be a disaster supplemental in the next month or so that will benefit Lake Charles.

Sen. Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-La.)

Hopefully, it won’t take that long for Southwest Louisiana, or by the way, for the floods in New York City, the tail end of Ida. Ida spread a lot of destruction, not just us, but further north.

Greta Van Susteren

You mentioned New York, New Jersey. They’ve had so many deaths there. We’ve seen the flooding, the pictures, people literally drowning in their basement apartments, cars flooded. In terms of disaster relief, how do you decide? Because I assume we have limited resources, limited manpower, limited money. Do we give it to Louisiana, South Louisiana, or do we do it to New Jersey and New York? How do we decide from a policy standpoint? How does that get divvied up?

Sen. Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-La.)

Well, first you have to give health and human safety, and so there’s no... Our society has said, “We’re going to provide for people for health and human safety.” As regards to the rebuilding aspect of it, I just keep going back to the infrastructure bill. President George W. Bush and Congress put together a separate package to build those ring levees. This bipartisan infrastructure bill already has the dollars appropriated. In some cases, funding programs passed by Republicans last Congress and signed into law, but not funded. So it wouldn’t be in terms of the mitigation aspect of it, and some of the rebuilding. Those dollars will be in this package.

On the importance of broadband in the infrastructure bill

Greta Van Susteren

All right. One of the problems in both the New York, New Jersey area and Louisiana is communications, and cell phones didn’t work, or they couldn’t get relief right away. What can be done or what should be done so that these people can at least communicate, communicate to their loved ones, “I’m okay,” or communicate to the fire department, “I need help?”

Sen. Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-La.)

Yeah. Part of the reason that cells went down is that there was no electricity. Going back to hardening the grid, that is part of it. Secondly, in this infrastructure bill, there’s $65 billion to make sure that every American has access to high-speed internet. You can imagine that some of that could be used as well to harden the grid for the cell towers. Again, we need to become more resilient. You said it earlier, storms are becoming more frequent, and people are living closer to coastlines disproportionately. They’re moving out of the heartland closer to the coastlines, which increases the vulnerability of more of our population. We need to build in resilience. And just like George W. started 16 years ago, we saw the benefit today. We need to start today to see the benefit years from now.

Sen. Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-La.)

And one of the reasons I’ve been pushing in the infrastructure bill, the idea that universal access to broadband is so important for storm relief, the federal government, state government, and local government all put out public service announcements through social media. It is incredible how effective that is. And people will get a pop-up on their phone from whatever, Facebook, tweet, whatever, “Avoid this area, because there is high waters.” So social media has now become the instantaneous way of communication. That is part of our hurricane storm preparedness. We need to have that infrastructure bill with that build-out.

On criticism Republicans are dragging their feet on encouraging the COVID vaccines

Greta Van Susteren

Members of your party... not all of them … some of them embrace vaccines, some talk about being vaccinated, but there are some members of your party who seemed to be dragging their feet and talking about liberty, make your own choice, although with liberty does come responsibilities to others. You can get someone else sick. Why do you think that it... And is it a fair criticism of your party that you’re dragging your feet getting the word out about vaccinations?

Sen. Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-La.)

Well, I think the party has gotten... Mitch McConnell’s done public service ads. President Trump has spoken about it, got booed about it, by the way. So I think the leadership of our party has spoken about it. You can say it’s been politicized on both sides. During the campaign, Kamala Harris has said she wouldn’t take the vaccination because it was Trump’s vaccine, or something. She walked that back later, but the way it was received and probably the way it was intended was to politicize immunization. So it’s going both ways. It’s too bad. From my perspective, this is about your health, your personal health and those whom you love.

On Louisiana COVID hospitalizations

Greta Van Susteren

The sort of storm that Louisiana faces right now is you even have a crisis of beds, ICU beds. What is being done about that?

Sen. Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-La.)

There was three hospitals that were knocked offline where the hurricane hit, and I spoke to the governor. He told me that they really didn’t have places to evacuate them, and they finally found a hospital in Kansas. I’ll just go back to... I’m a doc. I really have pushed vaccines my entire career, because I’ve seen people die of diseases that were vaccine-preventable. I’m going to funerals of people that didn’t want to get vaccinated, and now they’re dead. Literally, that’s the case. So, I just really encourage my fellow Louisianans, my fellow Americans, get vaccinated. The vaccine has been proven to be safe, effective. I’ve taken it, of course. And the people who are dying are not vaccinated.

On the importance of vaccinations

Sen. Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-La.)

It’s the power of immunization that prevents a disease.

Sen. Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-La.)

Everybody watching the show has been vaccinated, for measles, mumps, rubella, chickenpox, flu, pneumococcal, hepatitis B, and A. Everybody watching this program has been vaccinated, and why we wouldn’t do it for this vaccine which is so deadly, I’m just not quite sure.

Dr. Catherine O’Neal Highlights

On the impact of Hurricane Ida on her hospital

Greta Van Susteren

Did your hospital essentially dodge the bullet with Hurricane Ida? I mean, did you manage to get through without any interruptions?

Dr. Catherine O’Neal, Chief Medical Officer, Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center

We absolutely dodged the bullet. So as we saw that storm path just inch further and further east, we missed this storm by about 15 miles. And we have a part of our hospital, satellite part of our hospital, which is about 15 minutes away, our Lady of the Lake Ascension Hospital, and they did not Dodge the bullet. So they had a very large amount of damage to an accessory part of the hospital. Luckily, their generators handled it through that. Lots of damage to the surgical part of that hospital, which we’re helping out with now. But when you think about coming from the main hospital to ascension, it’s just a drive down the road and that’s what this storm path really, it’s so hard to predict. And the next day we just breathe a sigh of relief and started helping out because we got lucky.

Greta Van Susteren

How many ICU beds do you have?

Dr. Catherine O’Neal, Chief Medical Officer, Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center

In normal times, we have up to 110. We usually have about 90 ICU patients. That’s all pre-COVID. We haven’t seen that number since 2019, honestly, when we entered flu season then. So in flu season, we’ll jump up to about 110. Today, we have about 140 patients, half of them are COVID positive. And then about 40 of them are on ventilators.

Greta Van Susteren

And in terms of the bed shortage, I mean, what are you doing to accommodate this?

Dr. Catherine O’Neal, Chief Medical Officer, Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center

We made a variety of things to accommodate, stretching our team. Please come in for an extra shift, please work more this week. And then when we got the point that we couldn’t handle this surge with just our team alone, we did have a couple of different, we have a FEMA team that came in earlier in the month. We now have a state-contracted nursing team, who’s also on the ground. And we have a Department of Defense team on the ground. All of those people helping to support the enormous amount of patients we have in the hospital.

Dr. Catherine O’Neal, Chief Medical Officer, Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center

In addition to that, for the last month, we have not done any routine surgeries. We’ve not done any urgent surgeries. We put off cancer cases. All of those patients who require ICU care have been put off. And as the storm approached, that was our biggest concern is will the rush of patients from the storm continue to put off some of these life-saving therapies that we’ve now been putting off for three to four weeks?

Greta Van Susteren

Are you at a breaking point?

Dr. Catherine O’Neal, Chief Medical Officer, Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center

We’re not at a breaking point, but we are at a point in which we long past providing exceptional care to people. We are providing the care that they need. We’re providing it just on time, and sometimes too late. We are doing what we can. When do you break? I think you break when our healthcare workers break. And that is the thing that we do every single day, is we try to support them.

Dr. Catherine O’Neal, Chief Medical Officer, Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center

And now this week we have problems of our health care workers, they don’t have electricity.

Dr. Catherine O’Neal, Chief Medical Officer, Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center

We do a ton of things to protect our health workers and keep them safe while they’re in the hospital. But I think the biggest stress, as you add that level of I’m caring for an incredibly infectious patient, the bigger stress is, I’m caring for a patient who is very likely to die. And tomorrow, I’m going to care for a patient who is very likely to die.

Dr. Catherine O’Neal, Chief Medical Officer, Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center

And while we understand that adults do die and that as you age, this is the natural part of life. We’ve just never experienced this many people dying in their thirties, forties, and fifties. That’s not natural, it’s not acceptable. And we’re asking people to put on a level of armor that we didn’t equip them with to be able to deal with that day in and day out. And that’s honestly the hardest part of this.

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About Greta Van Susteren:

Greta Van Susteren is the Chief Political Analyst for Gray Media and host of Full Court Press. Ms. Van Susteren is a veteran of Fox News Channel, MSNBC, and CNN. Her prime-time Fox News Channel Show, “On the Record,” was number 1 in its time slot for 14 1⁄2 years. Before joining Fox News, she hosted CNN’s prime-time news and analysis program, “The Point with Greta Van Susteren,” and co-hosted the network’s daily legal analysis show, “Burden of Proof.” Her legal analysis for CNN’s coverage of Election 2000 earned her the American Bar Association’s Presidential Award for Excellence in Journalism. She continues to host the weekly 30-minute program “Plugged In with Greta Van Susteren” on Voice of America, which broadcasts exclusively outside of the United States.

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