Healthcare workers may be ‘stretched thin’ with ‘COVID’ surge

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By Vishani Ragobeer

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The COVID-19 pandemic has placed an additional strain on the local healthcare system but if the surge in new infections continues there are some concerns that healthcare workers may be ‘stretched thin’ even more than they already might be.

While responding to questions posed by the News Room during one of his recent daily COVID-19 updates, Health Minister Dr. Frank Anthony related that the health authorities have been extending the capacity of the National Infectious Diseases hospital (the Ocean View hospital) at Liliendaal, Georgetown.

A new oxygen system has been installed and additional beds have been put in place at this hospital, which is the specialised COVID-19 treatment centre. Dr. Anthony explained that these measures are being instituted as part of preparations to combat the rising number of infections, hospitalisations and even deaths.

Head of Medical Services at the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC) Dr. Mahendra Carpen (Photo: News Room/September 24, 2021)

According to the Head of Medical Services at the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC) Dr. Mahendra Carpen, the local healthcare system indeed has some flexibility to extend its physical resources to care for the increased number of patients being admitted.

“What our main challenge maybe is the human resources component,” Dr. Carpen says, however.

He explained that additional beds and other medical equipment can be procured to aid the treatment of people, consideration must be given to the healthcare workers who are battling the COVID-19 pandemic and the usual healthcare challenges.

And, Dr. Carpen, who also heads the Cardiology Department of the hospital and has oversight for the Ocean View hospital, says that healthcare workers are already under immense strain working to provide care to patients.

“… the doctors, nurses and the healthcare workers who are turning up to work every day, those are the real heroes.

“… This is a war against COVID and those are our soldiers on the frontlines every single day,” he emphasised.

It is not only that these healthcare workers had to adjust to providing COVID-19 care while dealing with pre-existing health concerns, though. Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr. Narine Singh explains that the situation is much grimmer.

“We know the system, in certain areas, was understaffed even before the pandemic so you can imagine it’s going to put some strain on the system,” Dr. Singh told the News Room recently.

Later, he added: “… we hope that we don’t reach to that breaking point where we have to refuse admissions and so on.”

Graph showing number of people who died after they were infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the disease COVID-19, since January 1, 2021

In the interim, the CMO revealed that the Health Ministry has been exploring whether backup plans such as asking the healthcare staff to work in a different shift system or even hiring additional workers.

Dr. Carpen also highlighted that the potential reprioritisation of healthcare services has been an “ongoing conversation”. What this means is that if the surge in COVID-19 cases and resulting hospitalisations is so great, healthcare workers may have to pause providing some non-essential services and focus their efforts on treating COVID-19 patients.

But he also emphasised that burnout, stress and fatigue of the healthcare workers also need to be considered. The month of September has seen a drastic increase in the number of people infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the disease, COVID-19. There have also been increases in the number of people admitted to medical facilities, including the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), for COVID-19 treatment.

So far, 5,359 people have been infected with this virus in September and there have been 129 deaths. Still, Dr. Anthony contends that there may be many more people infected with COVID-19 since many people, who might have been exposed to the virus, are not opting to get testing.

Graph showing number of people infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the disease COVID-19, since January 1, 2021
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