Addington Hospital. Picture: Motshwari Mofokeng/African News Agency (ANA)
Addington Hospital. Picture: Motshwari Mofokeng/African News Agency (ANA)

Two Durban hospitals in a Covid crisis as health workers test positive

By Viasen Soobramoney, Kelly-Jane Turner Time of article published Dec 18, 2020

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Cape Town - Two of eThekwini’s public hospitals are firmly in a healthcare crisis as Covid-19 infections of healthcare workers soar rapidly.

RK Khan Hospital in Chatsworth and the Addington Hospital in central Durban, are among the worst hit with over 50 health professionals including nurses and doctors infected with Covid-19.

This comes after President Cyril Rampahosa announced on Monday that 38 000 health workers across the country had tested positive - 5000 of which were hospitalised and over 390 dead from the virus.

At Addington Hospital 38 staff members, including five doctors, 11 nursing staff, one allied worker, and 21 support staff members had tested positive for Covid-19 since December 1. While at RK Khan, 23 staff, including seven nurses, 10 doctors, two radiologists, three clerks and one general orderly had tested positive.

A source close to the RK Khan Hospital has described the horror scenes unfolding at the facility as they battle to contain infections.

“It is a terrifying experience. It is bad. The hospital has Covid infections in every ward. Previously we had red zones and green zones. Now the entire hospital is a red zone,” he said.

According to the source, multiple units at the hospital have been affected by infections to staff including the critical Intensive Care Unit (ICU).

“We have had infections in the ICU, X-ray, outpatients and the trauma units. Of all our trauma doctors, only one tested negative. We are in a crisis,” he said.

Staff morale is said to be at an all-time low with nurses and workers describing the crisis as something they ‘have not seen before’.

The loss of key healthcare workers has sparked fear that the 543-bed hospital which serves the population of Chatsworth and surrounding areas from Yellowwood Park to Richmond would buckle under pressure.

Earlier this week KwaZulu-Natal Health MEC Nomagugu Simelane-Zulu said RK Khan Hospital was still rendering services while adhering to strict Covid-19 control measures.

Simelane-Zulu said a total of 7 451 health-care workers had been infected in the province in the public sector since the beginning of the pandemic of which 91 (1%) had died. The majority of infected health-care workers were nurses (57%), while doctors comprised 6% of the total.

Shantal Ghunaik, a Chatsworth resident who visits the hospital each month for her chronic medication said that visiting the hospital was ‘scary’.

“Lines are long, there are marquees for social distancing but this is hardly adhered to. We have no choice but to pick up our medication so it makes the entire experience very scary,” she said.

Another resident, Kreesen Govender said that with the rise of infections he was concerned if RK Khan Hospital would be viable for him should he test positive.

“The rise of infections amongst healthcare workers at the hospital is terrifying. What happens if I test positive or if I have other illnesses that require hospitalisation? Are we even safe going there or will they be able to assist us? It creates a lot of anxiety,” said Govender.

RK Khan Hospital board chairperson Reverend Cyril Pillay said the situation was dire and urged the public to adhere to regulations.

“RK Khan Hospital remains a continuous recipient of Covid-19 patients. Our drainage area comprises urban and rural areas. Dedicated staff are stretched to the maximum.

Health workers are no more the frontline, they are actually the final line of protection for our communities. Therefore as a community, we must take the necessary precautions and I call upon the religious and community leaders to re-emphasise the importance of masks, hand-washing and sanitising,” said Pillay

A recent study of 21 000 health care workers found that hospital-acquired Covid-19 infections decreased significantly after the implementation of universal use of surgical masks by health care workers and patients.

Researchers of the study also referred to the example of St Augustine’s Hospital in Durban where a single unsuspected Covid-19 case in May led to 6 major clusters involving 5 hospital wards and an outside nursing home.

The outbreak ultimately led to 140 staff members testing positive for the virus. Of those infected, 39 were hospitalised patients, and 15 of whom died.

In addition to mask usage, the study suggests that adequate, well-ventilated, and ideally dedicated space should be provided for healthcare workers. “Regular, flexible, and convenient testing with short turnaround times and adequate and statutory sick leave should be made available to all health care workers,” suggested the researchers.

In an open letter to the President earlier this year, President of the Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (DENOSA), Simon Hlungwani, called for intervention on the devastating plight of frontline health workers.

Due to the shortage of human resources during the pandemic, hospital staff have been working on skeleton levels and nurse-to-patient ratios are escalating at an alarming rate.

“The nurse to patient ratio, according to reports from our members in facilities, is at an alarming rate of 1:45 (one nurse per 45 patients). In public hospitals, the ratios range from as high as 1 nurse per 20 patients to as low as 1 in 45 patients. Anecdotal evidence from a province like the Eastern Cape suggests that it has reached 1 in 50 patients in some general wards, 1 in 10 patients in some postnatal wards and 1 in 80 patients in clinics,” said Hlungwani.

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