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Patients denied care at coronavirus-hit Eunpyeong St. Mary’s Hospital
  • By Jeong Sae-im
  • Published 2020.03.03 16:19
  • Updated 2020.03.04 14:48
  • comments 0

A cancer patient, who used to receive chemotherapy at the Catholic University of Korea's Eunpyeong St. Mary's Hospital, is worried sick now. The patient says he could miss treatment after the hospital was temporarily closed due to multiple outbreaks of the new coronavirus at the hospital.

He thought about moving to other hospitals, but they refused to accept him out of fear that he might have contracted the virus from Eunpyeong St. Mary’s Hospital. The patient said he is anxious all the time, worrying that his cancer might spread.

The Catholic University of Korea‘s Eunpyeong St. Mary‘s Hospital has been shut down since Feb. 21 after identifying the first confirmed case of the new coronavirus.

The shutdown of the hospital forced a female patient with kidney disease to get an over-the-phone prescription. The patients said she might have to change therapies because her symptoms worsened lately. However, the over-the-phone consultation with the doctor made it difficult to get an accurate diagnosis. She tried to make a reservation at another hospital, but the hospital refused to accept her.

With the prolonged shutdown of Eunpyeong St. Mary’s Hospital, existing patients are raising concerns that they might fail to get timely treatment. As the hospital put off all the outpatient care services and operations, existing patients had no choice but to search for other hospitals. However, their records of visiting Eunpyeong St. Mary’s Hospital keep them from getting fast access to treatment.

Although concerns of COVID-19 infection have abated, the hospital has to maintain the suspension of service until this week, under the guidelines set during the 2015 MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) outbreak.

On Feb. 21, Eunpyeong St. Mary’s Hospital closed the entire outpatient service, including the emergency room, as the first confirmed COVID-19 case occurred at the hospital. The hospital conducted a full-scale sanitization, isolated people who contacted the patient, and tested all the inpatients and employees for the new coronavirus. Patients who did not contact the confirmed patient and who tested negative were discharged and placed patients who contacted the confirmed patient in single rooms.

To prevent hospital transmissions, the hospital went as far as to test 2,725 people -- 212 doctors, 1,069 nurses, 455 administrative and medical support employees, 483 inpatients, 79 guardians and caregivers, and 427 contract workers.

There was almost no hospital transmission within the hospital, except for one inpatient and one caregiver who contacted the first confirmed patient.

“All of the employees commute by their personal cars and do not use public transportation to prevent a spread within the hospital. Those who cannot use a car are not allowed to come to work,” a professor working at the hospital told Korea Biomedical Review. “As guardians cannot stay at wards, medical staff provide care for inpatients 24 hours a day in shifts. We’re doing all we can to prevent any further infection.”

Although the hospital was ready to resume the service, the government did not lift the shutdown order yet, he noted.

The health authorities ordered the hospital to maintain the suspension of the hospital service for 14 days, as set during the MERS outbreak in 2015. Under such rules, the hospital cannot re-open until this week.

The professor raised concerns that existing patients could suffer damage due to the prolonged hospital shutdown. All outpatient care has been suspended, except for kidney dialysis. Patients who have undergone surgery just before the outbreak of the COVID-19 confirmed case can receive wound treatment only if they test negative for the virus.

Experts said just because the hospital was following old guidelines set during the MERS outbreak does not mean that existing patients should be left out of treatment.

“There is no reason that Eunpyeong St. Mary’s Hospital should continue the shutdown. The hospital should resume patient care as soon as possible,” said Ki Mo-ran, a professor at the National Cancer Center. “It is a problem that patient care keeps left out.”

Hospitals used to shut down every time they have a new confirmed COVID-19 case, but this should be changed, too, she noted.

The authorities should ease the criteria of the scope of the contact, isolate only those who fit the criteria, and let the hospital continue providing patient care, Ki added.


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