COVID spike putting Trinidad health care system under pressure

(Trinidad Guardian) If the numbers of positive COVID-19 cases continue, the parallel health care system could run out of beds by month end.

Ministry of Health officials on Saturday sounded a dire warning that they were running low on resources as the COVID-19 numbers continue to rise in the country.

Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh warned that if the high case levels continue, the hospitals would simply “not have space.”

The ministry’s acting principal medical officer in charge of institutions Dr Maryam Abdool-Richards broke down the worrying figures. She warned that if the spike trend continues, it would also start to impact the normal health care system. On Saturday the country recorded 248 new cases and two deaths.

The Government last year instituted a parallel health care system to deal with the COVID-19 cases while allowing the normal health care system to run without interference.

“However, given the increasing number of cases on a daily basis, roughly the rolling average over the last seven days is somewhere in the vicinity of 191 cases per day, approximately ten per cent of cases would require hospitalisation and a hospital bed,” Abdool-Richards said.

“That means for every 100 positive cases, ten persons need to be admitted to a hospital in the parallel health care system.”

Abdool-Richards said for every ten admissions, only two patients are being discharged.

“That means that there is a daily net gain of eight patients on a daily basis,” she said.

Abdool-Richards said there were over 500 beds in the parallel health care system across the seven hospitals.

“If we are to use the figures of yesterday (Friday), which would have 183 persons in hospital and we look at today’s (bed) capacity, which is 500, we are looking at roughly 300 spaces left and the beds can actually be utilised within three weeks to a month,” Abdool-Richards said.

Deyalsingh said while the ministry could add beds, it could not add the needed staff.

“Yes, we can add more beds, yes we can add more hospitals, but there is a limit to the human capacity to man these beds,” he said.

“We are not adding hundreds of more doctors, hundreds of more nurses and it is this same human resource that we have to depend on to vaccinate the population.”

Deyalsingh said overnight—between Friday and Saturday—they had to ramp up haemo-dialysis on ten patients.

“And if we continue at this rate, people who need it two to three weeks from now would not have a dialysis chair,” he said.

The increase in COVID has cases forced the ministry to re-operationalise the Arima General Hospital, adding 67 beds there. Ten people were admitted to that facility between Friday night and Saturday.

The Arima Hospital was taken off the COVID grid back in February when the numbers were so low that it was not needed. However, the steady climb in cases has put the hospital back in use.

The Ministry of Health was also forced to add 50 beds at the Couva Hospital to deal with the steadily rising numbers. The Augustus Long Hospital, which was first earmarked to only treat suspected cases, has now been fully transitioned to treat confirmed cases. This adds another 48 beds to treat confirmed cases.

“We have noticed, especially in the last week, the percentage of the overall occupancy of the hospital system increased to a maximum of 50 per cent,” Abdool-Richards said.

She said there was also an increase in the number of people being admitted to the wards, while the Intensive Care Units have also seen an increase in admissions, as has the High Dependency Units.