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An ambulance enters the Caura Hospital in Tunapuna on Wednesday. The facility is one of those dedicated to the treatment of COVID-19 patients which is close to capacity levels.

Anna-Lisa Paul

The seven medical institutions that were set up for the parallel health care system, which deals specifically with COVID-19-positive patients, was reported to be at 70 per cent capacity yesterday – and with no slowing down in the number of new cases, officials admitted it has become necessary to activate additional locations to ward persons needing urgent medical care in future.

Ministry of Health Principal Medical Officer Dr Maryam Abdool-Richards yesterday confirmed this was the highest occupancy level reached in the facilities since the pandemic hit T&T’s shores in March 2020.

Speaking during a media briefing hosted by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann’s, Abdool-Richards said in respect of Trinidad, “occupancy levels are very high at this point in time.”

Up to 10 am yesterday, the Caura Hospital, which houses moderately ill patients that do not need ICU and HDU care, was 98 per cent filled.

Abdool-Richards sought to drive home just how dire the situation was as she broke it down.

“If you had a relative who is unwell and has diabetes and hypertension and is elderly but walking around well, and one we consider to be at risk of deteriorating…well there is no space at the Caura Hospital,” she said.

At the Couva Hospital, which was 75 per cent filled as at 10 am yesterday, she said even with 40 more beds being activated, it required staff and consumables along with ventilators and personal protective equipment (PPE), which was proving to be a challenge for the authorities.

Transitioned into a COVID-19 facility only this week, the 45 beds at the Augustus Long Hospital was reported filled by 10 am yesterday; while the Arima General Hospital, which was recently re-commissioned as a COVID-19 facility, was said to be 60 per cent filled by 10 am yesterday.

Seven additional beds were expected to be added to the current capacity at the Augustus Long Hospital yesterday, while 60 more beds are to be brought on during a phased basis at Arima. At Couva, a new care level is to be introduced by today with 30 additional beds and plans are underway to increase the bed capacity at the Tacarigua Extended Care Facility by tomorrow.

Saying the authorities could increase the number of beds at the Arima Hospital, Abdool-Richards said, “Again, we are limited by human resources and we are working towards increasing that.”

She said the daily rolling average of cases was at 271 yesterday, adding, “The more cases we have, the more need for hospitalisation and the demand for hospital beds.”

She said she was worried that hospital admissions continue to exceed patient discharges, adding last week, 14 per cent of the patients required hospitalisation but this figure had jumped to 18 per cent this week. Using the current figures, Abdool-Richards said her previous estimate that it would take between seven and ten days to fill the remaining hospital beds in the parallel healthcare system now had to be readjusted, as the facilities were filling up faster.

Revealing just how they intended to reduce hospital admissions, she said, “We are doing a two-pronged approach in terms of a follow-up plan in the next 48 hours, which demonstrates the interoperability and the resilience of the parallel healthcare system, but we are testing that system and we do not want it to fail.”

Hospital occupancy levels in Tobago were said to be trailing off but Abdool-Richards urged persons not to become complacent, as this could change quickly.

In a response soon after the media briefing, however, T&T Registered Nurses Association (TTRNA) president Idi Stuart expressed concern that the lines separating the parallel healthcare system and the general healthcare system, which were clear before, were now becoming blurred.

He claimed, “There has been a slow merging of those two systems, where some of the same facilities which were exclusively in the general setting, is now being converted to being part of the parallel system and some of the staff that was in the general setting is being moved over and transitioned into the parallel system.”

Saying this could become the norm in the next couple of weeks if there is no slowdown in new cases, Stuart warned, “Eventually, the entire system would be merged together and come back as one under the general setting.

“We are seeing nearly every single regional health authority having already identified units within their hospitals that can deal with COVID-19 positive patients.”