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[Report from Daegu] ‘Exhausted medical workers emerge as foremost issue in drawn-out struggle’
  • By Jeong Sae-im
  • Published 2020.03.10 15:30
  • Updated 2020.03.10 15:30
  • comments 0

DAEGU, South Korea – “Workforce in second-tier hospitals couldn’t keep up with numerous patients infected with the new coronavirus. So, Keimyung University Dongsan Hospital, a first-tier institution, has dispatched many medical workers there to stabilize the situation. If this becomes a long-term battle, however, medical professionals will be exhausted. I’m worried I might not be able to help relieve their fatigue.”

Cho Chi-heum, director of Keimyung University Dongsan Hospital, said so in an interview with Korea Biomedical Review at the hospital in Junggu, Daegu, on Friday. The hospital is one of the government-designated regional hospitals to treat COVID-19 patients.

Cho Chi-heum, director of Keimyung University Dongsan Hospital and head of the COVID-19 emergency response headquarters of state-designated regional hospitals, speaks in an interview with Korea Biomedical Review last Friday.

Since the government’s designation to treat COVID-19 patients on Feb. 23, the hospital has operated around the clock. The hospital initially received patients with mild symptoms but is now using its intensive care unit, too, with the recent rise of gravely ill patients.

As of Friday, the hospital with 307 sickbeds admitted 288 COVID-19 patients. On Sunday, it added 145 beds.

Cho, also the leader of the hospital’s emergency response headquarters as the control tower, oversees all the COVID-19 treatments. After the second-tier Daegu Dongsan Hospital became short of medical staff to treat COVID-19 patients, the first-class Keimyung University Dongsan Hospital dispatched medical workers.

“We sent infectious disease specialists and experienced nurses to establish the current system,” Cho said, adding that the second-tier hospital’s operation got more stabilized than the initial period of the virus outbreak.

However, physicians and nurses had to wear full protective gear weighing more than three kilograms to treat patients for over two weeks. Their physical and psychological strength ran out, and two nurses fainted.

“Because they have to move around with protective clothing on, they get wet all over the body and can’t have meals properly. It must be ㅍreally tough,” Cho said. “Everyone is working so hard, but two weeks of full-day labor will weaken them. They need a rotation. We have to prepare for a long-term fight.”

The workload of healthcare workers even increased because of the newly added intensive care unit. The hospital cannot quickly transfer severe patients to other institutions because they could die during the transfer.

Although the hospital had sufficient sickbeds, it can hardly admit severe patients due to the lack of workforce and facilities, according to Cho. One nurse tends to 10 patients in general wards. In an ICU, however, one nurse has to care for one patient. That is why the hospital needs more nursing staff, he added.

For Keimyung University Dongsan Hospital, volunteering nurses are invaluable human resources. When a new volunteering nurse came to the hospital during the interview, Cho beamed welcoming the nurse.

“One nurse had a nursing license in Spain. Immediately after getting a Korean license this year, the nurse came to us to help. Another nurse volunteered to care for serious patients before leaving for the U.S.,” Cho said. Such support was a massive help for the hospital, he added.

Powered air-purifying respirator (PARP) helps nurses work longer. Still, the hospital has secured only half of the needed number, Choi said. He called for more support for PARPs.

Choi called on the government to encourage healthcare workers who are toiling with a sense of duty.

“Medical workers here are working day and night. They can’t go home because they worry they could infect their families, and they sleep in the hospital,” he said. “They can work hard because they have a commitment. I hope the government could encourage and reward them after the crisis ends.”


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