‘St Dominic’s overflowing with Covid-19 patients’
The private health-care system seems to be buckling under the pressure as Covid-19 cases rise in the province, and reports of a shortage of beds at Life St Dominic’s have surfaced.
According to three nurses who work at the hospital, a shortage of beds has resulted in Covid-19 patients and non-Covid patients being cramped up in the hospital’s only casualty ward.
They said the hospital was continuing to admit patients though it had reached its capacity.
The nurses asked to remain anonymous as they claimed they had been warned not to speak to the media on pain of being “fired and then blocked” from working again.
One of the nurses, who has worked at St Dominic's for more than a decade, told the Dispatch the number of infected staff was climbing at the hospital.
“The hospital has officially run out of beds,” she said.
“Now we have been forced to house Covid-19 patients with other patients who don’t have the virus in the casualty ward, meaning Covid-19 patients and other patients are only separated by a curtain in the same ward.
“Management has refused to close and fumigate the casualty ward, and the matron is not coming to the staff with the answers we need; even the unit manager is not talking to us.
“I know of 42 nurses who’ve tested positive in the hospital, but the hospital has not been closed off for a proper decontamination process to take place and I think that’s why the number of Covid-19 cases among us keeps rising daily.
“Some of sisters from the ICU [who are now in quarantine] tested positive but they are too scared to say anything because we are all [allegedly] being threatened.”
The nurse said there continued to be a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) at the hospital, contrary to what the GM of emergency medicine at Life Healthcare, Dr Charl van Loggerenberg, had previously told DispatchLIVE.
Van Loggerenberg had said all employees had been provided with the “appropriate PPEs” but the nurse said every day, when they had to attend to Covid-19 patients, they had “to fight” to get N95 masks and proper hazmat suits.
“PPEs are so scarce and sometimes we use cloth green gowns, which is inappropriate because the virus can penetrate a green gown.
“We have to take N95 masks by force because we’ve been told to save them for doctors, the same doctors who don’t enter the wards that have Covid-19 patients — they just write prescriptions from outside and we have to give those patients medication.”
Another nurse told of an ordeal she witnessed last week when a Covid-19 patient who was being transferred from Life East London Private died in St Dominic’s casualty ward while en route to the ICU.
“That patient was under BiPAP [ventilation] and he was restless. Paramedics had to resuscitate that patient three times on the road.
“He died in our casualty and we asked management why don’t you close the casualty and deep clean it, because a virus from a dead person is much stronger than when a person is still alive?
“But there was no deep cleaning that took place until now. We just saw cleaners from the cleaning company hired by the hospital washing the walls.”
Another nurse, who has worked at St Dominic’s for three years, said she feared for her life but needed the job.
“I’m just scared to talk about this because it might not end well for me, and I really need this job to help my family.
“But I’m also thinking of my own life because things are getting worse here and there are no beds available now,” she said.
On Friday afternoon, Van Loggerenberg conceded the hospital was starting to see a steady increase in the number of Covid-19 patients and that had created “some extended waiting periods for patients”.
He denied the hospital was keeping Covid-19 patients in a room with other patients.
“On extremely busy days, the emergency unit may house patients for longer than is normal while they await test results or transfer to their ward.
“At no time are patients under investigation or positive patients housed in the same area as patients who are not being treated for Covid-19 related illnesses,” he said.
“Patients identified as positive are isolated immediately. In the emergency unit, as in other units, measures are taken to prevent any suspected infection being transferred from one patient to another even if they are in the same area,” Van Loggerenberg said.
When asked if the hospital had been fumigated he said: “It is not required that the whole hospital be closed for decontamination purposes.”
He said any area where there was suspected contamination would be sterilised in terms of Life Healthcare’s protocol aligned to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) and department of health’s requirements.
“All areas of the hospitals are cleaned and sanitised as a matter of course, and to ensure effective infection prevention. Areas that have been occupied by patients or staff who have tested positive have been sterilised.”
When asked how many nurses had tested positive for Covid-19, Van Loggerenberg failed to provide the number.
He added: “N95 or equivalent masks are provided to employees only in high-risk situations”, and said the safety of staff and patients continued to be a priority.
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