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[Exclusive] Coronavirus-hit mental institution wraps up two-week struggleDaenam Hospital relocates all psychiatric patients to other facilities
  • By Kwak Sung-sun
  • Published 2020.03.06 15:51
  • Updated 2020.03.07 15:28
  • comments 0

Daenam Hospital in Cheongdo in North Gyeongsang Province, which reported seven deaths in its psychiatric ward due to the spread of the new coronavirus, said it has sent all the COVID-19 patients and those with mental illness to other institutions as of Thursday. The move came in just two weeks after the hospital identified the first confirmed case on Feb. 19.

The hospital could contain the disease without adding new deaths because the health authorities and doctors across the nation were quick to support medical workers at Daenam Hospital, observers said.

An official at the Ministry of Health and Welfare, who worked at the site from the initial stage to the end, said government officials and physicians virtually turned the hospital into a new one to stabilize the situation only within two weeks.

This is the frontal view of Daenam Hospital in Cheongdo, about 300 km southeast of Seoul, where 102 patients contracted the new coronavirus at a psychiatric ward.

All patients of Daenam Hospital transferred to other sites

By the time Daenam Hospital confirmed the first patient on Feb. 19, 102 patients at the psychiatric ward had contracted the virus. Among them, seven died and 26 recovered.

Among the other 69 COVID-19 patients, 38 were sent to the National Mental Health Center in Seoul and 31, to state-designated negative pressure rooms at other hospitals. The hospital also moved all the remaining psychiatric patients to other institutions.

There were 114 employees at Daenam Hospital, except for patients. Among them, 14 were confirmed with COVID-19 and transferred to other hospitals. The remaining 100 were isolated for 14 days, and the authorities lifted the quarantine as of midnight Tuesday.

The 100 people could choose either to go home for self-quarantine or to stay at the hospital to help it normalize the situation. Twenty-seven chose the latter.

As the hospital itself was in a cohort quarantine, the 27 people chose to stay at the hospital to help treat the remaining patients. Without them, the initial panic must have intensified even with the support of other medical workers, observers said.

On Feb. 19-20, there was nothing in Daenam Hospital

An official of the Ministry of Health and Welfare, who was dispatched to Daenam Hospital on Feb. 20, told Korea Biomedical Review about what has happened at the hospital since then.

“When I first got there, the most urgent thing was to get medical workers. When there are over 100 patients at the hospital, the healthcare workers of Daenam Hospital were all in self-quarantine. There was no medical staff,” the official said. “Without any other administrative workers, the hospital was almost paralyzed.”

Daenam Hospital’s facilities were dilapidated, he went on to say. “At the initial stage, the hospital had no pulse oximeters, no oxygen therapy, and no Kaletra (which is used as a COVID-19 therapy),” he said.

However, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and the government brought eight pulse oximeters, three ventilators, drugs such as Kaletra, and Level-D protective gear to the hospital.

On Feb. 19, KCDC conducted an urgent epidemiological investigation. After the health and welfare ministry dispatched workers to Daenam Hospital on Feb. 20, people started “making a small new hospital” there, he added.

Over 60 medical workers’ support saved Daenam Hospital

COVID-19 patients leave Daenam Hospital for the National Mental Health Center in Seoul, on Wednesday.

Although the central government provided emergency equipment and treatments, the hospital suffered a severe shortage of doctors who could use them to treat patients.

The crisis started to decrease when physicians from the National Mental Health Center, the Bugok National Hospital, and the National Health Insurance Service Ilsan Hospital arrived at Daename Hospital and started treatment.

“At first, although the doctors were there to help, they did not know where the drugs were, where the treatment materials were, and how the hospital building was structured,” the ministry official said. “The 27 hospital employees, who chose to stay instead of going home for self-quarantine, helped a lot.”

In addition to many people’s efforts, one doctor who urgently came played a crucial role, he went on to say. “The emergency medicine specialist from NHIS Ilsan Hospital volunteered to help. The doctor worked hard,” he added.

What’s next at empty Daenam Hospital?

Daenam Hospital is on complete lockdown now. Several administrative workers, whose quarantines were lifted, are cleaning up the virus-free first floor. However, no hospital employee stays.

“As of 3 p.m. Thursday, doctors from other hospitals have left the hospital. They all tested negative for the new coronavirus. Still, they will stay at the Korea Human Resource Development Institute for Health & Welfare for two weeks, just in case,” the official at the health and welfare ministry said.

“Daenam Hospital could prevent a further spread of the virus because these doctors treated patients with all their strength,” he added.

Although Daenam Hospital could move all the patients to other places, people who worked at the scene are seriously exhausted, the official noted.

“We have to prepare for the next, though. It was great that the number of deaths at the hospital did not increase anymore.”


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