Patients wait for COVID tests at the Princes Town Health facility. (Image: KRISTIAN DE SILVA)
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Viral tents outside the Princes Town Health Facility and San Fernando General Hospital continue to overflow with people, as the demand for COVID-19 tests increases.

When Guardian Media visited the San Fernando General Hospital on Friday, attendants were seen periodically wheeling oxygen tanks into the tents as medical workers resuscitated people with breathing problems.

A woman sat on a wheelchair gasping, while a dozen more sat socially distanced, waiting for the administering of PCR tests.

A medical source told Guardian Media that staff have been overwhelmed because of the demands for tests.

“Because of the number of people who are in quarantine, there has been no rotation of staff in some departments,” the official said.

“We also have a situation where symptomatic staff are not being tested but are being told to go home. Some of the staff members are concerned that they will not be compensated even though they are exposed in the workplace.  Some staff with primary contacts are not being quarantined,” the source added.

At the Princes Town Health facility, about 15 people sat socially distanced as they waited for treatment around 10 am.

Two of them covered their heads with their hands, while the medical staff moved swiftly to administer tests.

One woman told Guardian Media this was the third time she had come to the facility to do tests.

“The last time we sat down from 5 pm to 7 o’clock in the night before they told us to come back the next day. Both I and my sister have to get our tests done and we have been waiting for hours,” one woman said.

She said despite the constraints, staff were cordial and pleasant to patients.

Contacted for comment, the chief executive officer at the SWRHA, Dr Brian Armour, said attempts are being made to reduce the demand on the emergency department at the San Fernando General Hospital.

“We have set up a strong primary care contact tracing team to reach those in home quarantine for telehealth monitoring. This gives advance notice of any person requiring emergency care and assessment,” he said.

“There is coordination with the MOH to send patients straight from home to COVID treatment facilities, so there is less surge at the Emergency Department,” Dr Armour added.

He noted that COVID swabbing facilities have been set up in the health centres to decrease traffic in the emergency departments.

“Emergency departments have a viral tent area for persons feeling unwell. All staff are proficiently trained in the emergency department on triage at the viral tent. There are compliance oversight checks by medical, nursing, quality and HSE departments. Customer feedback has been important for us to continually improve,’ he said.

Concerning staff becoming overwhelmed, Dr Armour said, “We have been proactively reviewing roster efficiency and particular attention is paid to oxygen availability and security, which is not of any concern at this time.”

He added: “SWRHA ambulance provides for an interfacility transfer of COVID positive cases from emergency departments, more of which occurs at night.”

“We have a molecular lab for COVID testing at SFGH, and we have reviewed systems so that we can be fully operational 24 hours at this time with increased testing throughput for PCR testing. More recently, the Ministry of Health has supplied tests to do rapid testing,” he revealed.

The SWRHA CEO confirmed that the Augustus Long Hospital, the Debe stepdown facility, as well as the Point Fortin step-up / stepdown facility commissioned by the Ministry, all will assist SWRHA to manage patients in community and ED who require care for acute illness management at treatment facilities.

He said for the wellbeing of staff there is continued Infection Prevention Control (IPC) training, provision of meals for frontline staff, access to staff tele-mental health and office consultation.