As hospitals around the country run out of bed space in their designated COVID-19 units due to the uptick in new infections, plans are underway add over 100 new COVID-19 beds.
Minister of Health Dr. Christopher Tufton made the announcement during a virtual COVID-19 press briefing on Tuesday (February 23) where he addressed the capacity issue facing the public health system.
Tufton admitted that the country was experiencing a “serious challenge” as he noted that all four regional health authorities were reporting having two or more hospitals in the red alert zone.
“The present state of hospitalizations has become for us alarmingly high, and it is something that we have spoken about in the past that if we get to a stage where we become overwhelmed then that’s when we see the real consequences of the COVID pandemic, we have currently some thirteen of twenty-two hospitals, across the island, at the red alert phase,” said Tufton.
Nine of these hospitals are at 100 per cent or greater capacity. The current hospital census shows that Cornwall Regional Hospital, Falmouth Hospital, Annotto Bay, Mandeville Regional Hospital, May Pen, Kingston Public, Princess Margaret and Spanish Town hospitals have all exceeded their capacity to host patients who require isolated care. And this of course has to be worrying,” added Tufton.
More COVID Beds
According to Tufton, additional bed space will be created at the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI) as well as at the National Chest Hospital.
“We’re adding an additional twenty beds at the National Chest Hospital and I visited the National Chest Hospital yesterday, their COVID ward was a 100 percent taken up, 36 beds, they’re now adding an additional 20 beds and we are providing for them some additional infrastructure to support that,” said Tufton.
Tufton further explained that an existing ward at the UHWI was to be converted into a COVID-19 ward, which would add additional bed space to the over 360 beds that are in the system.
“So, UWI which was again at capacity with forty-one beds are adding an additional 25 beds in order to accommodate the increases in numbers or the expected increases in numbers,” added Tufton.
Field Hospitals Almost Complete
The health minister also made mention of the soon to be functional field hospitals, which would also serve to bolster capacity.
According to Tufton, the field hospitals which would provide 72 bed spaces, located at the Falmouth General Hospital and the Spanish Town Hospital, are nearing completion.
“The field hospitals spaces, which are yet to be deployed but are very close to being deployed, and I visited the two last week, Falmouth and St Josephs hospital sites, and they are pretty much complete and are now being prepared in terms of the internal infrastructure and staffing, ” said Tufton.
“The forty bed field that had originally been cited for National Chest Hospital is being moved to Spanish Town and, I believe we had made that public earlier and that again will add some additional capacity,”added Tufton who sought to clarify the location of the second field hospital.
Andrews Hospital to Help with Excess
In addition to adding bed space, the minister noted that through a public private partnership the Andrews Memorial Hospital would be helping to free up space in the public system.
Tufton explained that some non COVID patients would be transferred to the private hospital as a way of dealing with excess capacity.
“The Ministry of Health and Wellness had initiated an agreement with the Andrews Memorial Hospital, it is an additional possibility that will come on stream for the accommodation of overflow of non-COVID patients. So it is not a COVID hospital, it will take some of the non COVID patients out of the public health system and so create space for patients who require COVID care in the public health system. So that’s a public private arrangement,” said Tufton.
“We are adding a fair bit of additional beds to support the overflow that is now taking place based on the 360 or just under 370 COVID beds that we had in the system and that for us is an important response because one of the things that we have to avoid is would be for person needing hospital care not to be able to get hospital care,” added Tufton.
Staff Recruitment Underway
In addition to creating additional bed space, Tufton notes the ministry has also started a recruitment drive to help staff the excess capacity.
“The other challenge however, having put in place the beds or the infrastructure, is the staffing and there are challenges there too. But nevertheless we are working to expand our staffing capacity,” said Tufton
“The expansion of staff will be done over time, but we have asked for that to begin immediately- it has started- we will then make further assessments taking into consideration any changes in hospitalizations and capacity. Each regional health authority has been instructed to hire additional staff based on their needs assessments, ” added Tufton.
Tufton used the occasion to dissuade Jamaicans from utilizing the public health system unless necessary, assuring the public that while hospitals would more busier than normal no one would be turned away.