COVID-19 among staff and patients forces closure of third private hospital

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A Mediclinic facility in Johannesburg has joined two Durban Netcare facilities in closing its doors to new admissions, while KZN Health has given Netcare a week to move dialysis patients from its separately housed dialysis centre at St Augustine's, Durban, because of COVID-19 infections hitting staff and patients.

No surgeries, unless it's an emergency; no patient visits, except in select cases and hospitals now have designated wards, treating only patients with coronavirus. Fin24 reports that the trading update by one of South Africa's largest hospital groups, Life Healthcare has given a glimpse of how the way of doing things in the country's hospitals has changed as South Africa battles to contain the spread of COVID-19.

"Entrances have been reduced…Visiting patients has been suspended with limited approved exceptions in the case of critical patients, paediatric patients and confinements. Seventeen retail pharmacies have been temporarily closed," read Life Healthcare's update.

The report says as the virus spreads, hospitals have been under microscopic monitoring on how they are safeguarding their operations, especially after Netcare has had to shut down two of its facilities. The hospital group has completely closed St Augustine's and Kingsway hospitals in Durban while Parklands Hospital, also in the same city, closed its emergency department over the weekend. Mediclinic was also forced to close new admissions at the Morningside Hospital last week.

Life Healthcare said in its update it is now operating with average occupancies of around 40% in its South African hospitals. The group's international operations which include facilities worst-hit regions such as the US, Italy, Spain and the UK have had to adopt different responses, informed by each country's specific measures to fight the virus.
Life Healthcare, which has 8,037 beds and 682 universal ventilators in its acute hospital operations, said it is in the process to establish pricing for the treatment of state patients – people without medical aid who would have been forced to utilise public hospitals if they contracted COVID-19 and needed hospitalisation.

The hospital group said through the Hospital Association of South Africa (HASA) and Business Unity South Africa, it is participating in discussions on what healthcare interventions companies can provide. The report says other private hospital groups, including Netcare, RH Bophelo and Mediclinic, have in the past also pledged to help government alleviate capacity challenges in state facilities.

Mediclinic has revealed a sharp increase in the number of people who have tested positive for the coronavirus at their Morningside facility in Johannesburg. The Times reports that last week the hospital issued a statement saying that four patients and 15 staff members had tested positive. Nine of the 15 staff members were health care workers.

The report says the latest statement revealed that the number of infections had risen from 19 infections to 88. This consisted of 11 patients, 36 health care workers, 32 supporting staff members and nine allied health professionals. More than 1,000 people had been tested as possible contacts of a hospital member who tested positive.

Since then, the hospital has closed its doors, barring any new admissions. “We had adopted the WHO and NICD guidelines to assess and test patients for COVID-19, the recommended infection and prevention principles specifically relating to social distancing, environmental cleaning, hand hygiene and personal protective equipment,” said the hospital.

KwaZulu-Natal Health has given St Augustine's Hospital a week to move dialysis patients out of its centre after several patients there tested positive for COVID-19, reports The Times. The centre, which is housed in a building separate from the main hospital, was allowed to continue operating because of a shortage of dialysis centres. This came amid a directive from the provincial department to shut down St Augustine's after 66 people there tested positive for the coronavirus.

“As of Wednesday, we were informed that about seven patients in that facility had been found to be positive. We are now faced with a situation where we have to instruct, and have indicated to St Augustine's, that they must find alternative centres for these patients to receive dialysis,” said KwaZulu-Natal Health MEC Nomagugu Simelane-Zulu. Simelane-Zulu said the hospital had assured them it was not possible for the virus to move into the dialysis centre because the affected health-care workers worked only in the main hospital.

The MEC said they had given the hospital a week to get its house in order because of the risks of abruptly stopping dialysis. The MEC said the clinical aspect of the investigation in terms of testing had been completed at St Augustine's. The report says the hospital didn't immediately respond to queries.

Craig Murphy, Netcare Hospitals' KZN regional director, said that Parklands Hospital remained “open and operating”, except for its emergency department which was temporarily closed while relocation to a new area on its grounds took place.

The Times reports that the hospital recently came into the spotlight after a patient with stage 4 prostate cancer died at the facility after testing positive for COVID-19. Murphy said sister hospitals St Augustine's and Kingsway were closed for emergencies as well as the admitting of patients.

The National Education Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) has called on public and private healthcare sector workers to not perform their duties if employers do not provide protective equipment to shield them against COVID-19, reports Business Day reports. Nehawu represents nurses, doctors, pharmacists, cleaners, dispensary and reception clerks; community health workers, ambulance and morgue workers; community care workers and laboratory technicians, among others.

The report says the union's call followed Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize’s recent remarks that an ongoing investigation into allegations of noncompliance at Netcare St Augustine's hospital in Durban would reveal how and why 48 nurses tested positive for COVID-19.

Zola Saphetha, general secretary of Nehawu, an affiliate of union federation Cosatu, said they had observed “an upsurge” in the number of healthcare workers who had been exposed to the virus that has infected 3,158 people and killed 54 in South Africa. “Private healthcare providers are the biggest culprits in failing to put proactive measures to protect workers from contracting the virus while in the front-line of actively fighting the virus,” said Saphetha. Saphetha said they were calling on managers to not force or intimidate employees to work without protection as “this is tantamount to attempted murder and a criminal offence”.

Glen Grey Provincial Hospital nurses have refused to help coronavirus patients who were rushed from Cala to the hospital in Cacadu at the weekend. According to a DispatchLIVE report, staff stood outside the hospital building in a show of defiance. The nurses say they will not treat the infected patients until they receive personal protection equipment (PPE). They say there are 19 patients in all.

The patients had not received any assistance since arriving at the hospital on Friday, nurses and their union said. While they have been attending to other patients in the hospital, nurses have been avoiding the TB and surgical wards for men, which is where the 19 patients have been accommodated.

Three nurses were quoted as saying that they had downed tools, but only in these sections of the hospital. They remain in service in other wards. Eastern Cape Health MEC Sindiswa Gomba's spokesperson Judy Ngoloyi said premier Oscar Mabuyane would address matters concerning the hospital.

Full Fin24 report

Full report in The Times

Full report in The Times

Full report in The Times

Full Business Day report

Full DispatchLIVE report

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