'Difficult decisions will have to be made' if healthcare system continues operating beyond capacity

By LEANDRA ROLLE


Tribune Staff Reporter


lrolle@tribunemedia.net 

HEALTH officials admitted Friday that tough decisions will have to be made concerning the patients that will be given priority care if the country’s healthcare system continues to operate beyond its current capacity amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Director of the National HIV/AIDS and Infectious Disease Programme Dr Nikkiah Forbes made the revelation during the ministry’s press conference on Friday – where it was revealed that the country recorded 132 cases on Thursday, pushing the nation’s count to 5,517. 

Friday’s data was not released at the time this article was published. 

However, Chief Medical Officer Dr Pearl McMillan has revealed that one in 70 Bahamians have contracted COVID-19.

“The absolute reality of the situation is when healthcare systems are beyond capacity, we won’t be able to care for the number of patients that are presenting,” Dr Forbes said during the Ministry of Health’s press conference Friday.

“It’s a real challenge. You heard in the minister’s address that there are currently more patients than the capacity of Princess Margaret Hospital. There’s 73 patients but the bed capacity is in fact only 70. The absolute reality of the situation is when healthcare systems are beyond capacity, we won’t be able to care for the number of patients that are presenting.”

This comes after former Health Minister Dr Duane Sands revealed in a radio interview on Thursday that healthcare workers are having to choose who lives and who dies given the continued strain being placed on the health care system.

On Friday, Health Minister Renward Wells noted that bed capacity for COVID-19 patients continues to be stretched, with PMH already exceeding its maximum limit.

Recounting her recent experiences, Dr Forbes said there have been instances where workers have had to become resourceful and make changes where possible in order to provide care for COVID-19 patients due to overcrowding issues.

She said: “On at least one of the nights I was on call we did have a patient present to the emergency room and we did not have the suitable room to manage that patient. What we had to do is to shift patients around, more stable patients so that we can offer that patient the kind of oxygen and respiratory support that patient needed.

“I can’t speak for the other facilities, but I can tell you that the reality of the situation is facilities are beyond capacity and you could be in a situation where you could not manage the patient and you might not be able to care for a patient that needs respiratory support.”

She continued: “Currently, at the PMH, patients are in care areas that were not designed or allocated for COVID care including places in the emergency room and other areas and facilities where we have had to change them.

“I believe the other context of the comments was what about non COVID care? So we have been forced to open wards to provide COVID care . . . At this time, I have not seen a patient die because we haven’t been able to support them and pick someone else who has had to live but I will tell you the reality of the situation is we continue beyond capacity, those difficult decisions will have to be made.” 

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Samaritan's Purse set up the unit on Friday. (BIS Photo/Patrick Hanna)

To help increase patient capacity, Mr Wells said a partnership between the government and Samaritan’s Purse will allow for the establishment of a 28-bed COVID-19 isolation and treatment unit.

Also painting a grim picture of the country’s COVID-19 situation, Dr McMillan noted that New Providence continues to be the epicenter of the virus spread, accounting for 76.8 percent of all confirmed cases.

Last week, Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis reimposed a number of restrictions on New Providence and Abaco due to high COVID cases there, including a weekend lockdown and stricter curfew hours. 

The chief medical officer said, while no flattening of the curve is yet being examined for New Providence, Abaco has made some progress.

Still, she said it will take some time for officials to see results due to the restrictive measures. 

In the meantime, Dr McMillan said the ministry will continue to monitor COVID cases especially as officials are becoming increasingly concerned about the amount of new cases being recorded  in recent days on some islands, which have not recorded new infections for weeks.

“Some of are Family Islands are now demonstrating increases in new cases after a period of COVID quiet. Particularly concerning Eleuthera and Berry Island as we alluded to. These islands have a similar trend to Abaco, which was flagged for an increase of restrictive measures last week,” she said. 

Asked if those islands could see more restrictive measures being implemented in the days ahead, health officials said recommendations have already been made to the government for more restrictions to be added on Eleuthera and Berry Islands.

This comes as the country is preparing to re-open its tourism industry in just about two weeks. 

Due to current high cases, some residents have expressed concern about the country’s readiness to re-open next month, fearful of a repeat of the July scenario where the decision to significantly relax travel restrictions resulted in a surge of new infections.

Asked if officials feels confident that the country is ready for its reopening, Health Minister Renward Wells said: “The government of the Bahamas in seeking to be responsive to the needs of the Bahamian people are seeing how it can best manage the survival of our economic life as well as the physical life and livelihood of the Bahamian people.

“Whereas we are receiving advice as to what needs to take place within the health sphere, we’re also taking all of that into consideration in the decision-making process. Obviously, as a government we’re never going to do anything that going to overtly endanger the lives of our people but we do believe that we are on to a model/formula that can work.”