Roxborough Hospital Medical Chief of Staff Dr Nathaniel Duke.

In preparation for what the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) is calling a “surge in Omicron cases,” Tobago, for the first time, will soon have a parallel health care system.

Speaking at the THA’s post-Executive Council media briefing yesterday, Augustine said he is hoping to have the system up and running by February 2.

He said the old Scarborough Regional Hospital will be converted into an infectious disease control centre. Currently, COVID-19 patients are being kept there but anyone needing Intensive Care Unit (ICU) treatment is transferred to the Scarborough General Hospital.

“We can get Scarborough Hospital back to regular care because there are other ailments on the island besides COVID-19 and people with other diseases have been suffering because the focus is on COVID-19,” Augustine said.

The THA has given infectious disease specialist Dr Nathaniel Duke the mandate to oversee the setting up of the parallel system. Dr Duke said logistically, it will not be an easy task but something needs to be done because while there are now three confirmed cases of Omicron on the island, realistically there are much more.

“So this variant which is now circulating in the Tobago space, as of today they have recorded three, so epidemiologically, we can multiply that by 100 and that will probably be the amount of Omicron-positive patients circulating in our society. So, therefore, a surge is about to come, so we have to be prepared for that surge that is on our doorstep.”

Meanwhile, Health Secretary Dr Faith B Yisrael said of the three confirmed cases, only one or two had a travel history.

She said the parallel system will allow her division to centralise COVID-19 care.

“It will ensure we concentrate our resources, so we are not trying to find a doctor to go here there and everywhere or nurses, we know that we have them in a single space so we can manage them better.”

Dr Duke said the facility will need a cadre of staff who are trained in critical and pulmonary care.

“So intensivists with critical care and pulmonary post-graduate training is one of the categories of staff that will be sought, we have respiratory therapist, that is a category not used in the public system but in the private sector.”

He said there will also be the need for retrofitting at the designated facility.

“We are looking at our oxygen supply and it is my understanding that help is on the way, the oxygen concentrators will be installed soon and that would boost our dependence from sending bottles to and from Trinidad.”

In terms of the medication stock for the facility, Duke said it will be reviewed as there is a shortage of some drugs. He said that may involve purchasing stock outside the regular Government channels and going directly to the distributors.

Duke said this will also stop the comingling of health workers, as there is currently a high rate of unvaccinated employees in both the Division of Health and Tobago Regional Health Authority (TRHA). At the TRHA, only 35 per cent of workers are fully vaccinated, something the Chief Secretary finds very troubling. However, Augustine said Tobago at this time cannot adopt the Government’s approach of sending home unvaccinated staff.

“Can you imagine going to the hospital and more than 65 per cent of the staff not present because they are unvaccinated?”Augustine said.