Rains set back build-out of COVID-19 field hospitals


Rains set back build-out of COVID-19 field hospitals

Saturday, December 05, 2020

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WEEKS of severe weather conditions pushed back the completion of field hospitals at the St Josephs Hospital in Kingston and Falmouth, Trelawny.

The health ministry is now working towards the mid to end of January to complete the facilities, permanent secretary Dunstan Bryan told Thursday's meeting of the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) at Gordon House in Kingston.

At the same time, director of emergency medicine, Dr Dawkins Wright explained that Jamaica has not reached the “trigger point” that would require the field hospital donated by the United States Southern Command in September to be operationalised.

“To date we have not met the criteria to operationalise that facility so we will continue to review the utilisation, in terms of the use of the facility for the [COVID-19] surge demand. We have on paper a plan as it relates to activation of the facility should the trigger be made, “ she explained.

The $105-million facility, located on the compound of the National Chest Hospital in St Andrew, was delivered ready for staffing and was equipped with approximately 40 patient beds.

Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr Jaquiline Bisasor McKenzie told the committee that the predicted rise in the number of novel coronavirus infections post-Thanksgiving has already started but that the ministry has laid the groundwork to stave off hospitalisations, through increased testing and ramping up public awareness measures.

“It is a bit early for us now, since the last week of November, to have plateaued and then [have the curve] start to turn up,” she said.

Notwithstanding the spike expected after the Christmas holidays, hospitalisations should remain manageable, Dr Bisasor McKenzie told the PAAC.

“Presently, we are at below 50 per cent capacity of our COVID beds. During August we went up to about 70 to 80 per cent, so we know that we can manage that because we did manage it in August and September. Our projection now is that despite the increase in the number of cases that we may expect, we will maintain our levels of hospitalisation within our capacity to manage,” she said.

The CMO noted that there is a two-week timeframe in which to operationalise the field hospital if it becomes necessary, and that two additional ward spaces for St Joseph's and Falmouth hospitals should come on stream, should the spike overshoot the August to September levels.

During the early phases of the outbreak, hospital bed occupancy for COVID-19 cases ranged between five and 55 per cent, the ministry's report to the committee said.

— Alphea Saunders

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