South Africa

CORONAVIRUS: GAUTENG: Gauteng’s Nasrec Field Hospital High Care gets first patients after life-saving donations

Medical staff at the Nasrec quarantine and isolation site in Johanneburg. (Photo: Gallo Images / Dino Lloyd)

After a group of volunteers at the Nasrec Field Hospital raised the alarm that the facility would need more beds with oxygen and higher levels of care, donors supplied funds for 70 oxygen concentrators and volunteers worked all weekend to prepare high care facilities that could receive their first five patients on Monday.

Doctors and activists sent out an urgent appeal on Friday, revealing that Gauteng’s Nasrec Field Hospital needs access to oxygen.

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Addressing an acute shortage of high care beds as Gauteng is hit by a surge of coronavirus infections, a group of volunteers and a number of generous donors have managed to create a small high care facility where patients needing oxygen can receive medical care despite hospitals being full.

“We have had an amazing response from the public and from Daily Maverick (and Maverick Citizen) readers. By Saturday we had 70 oxygen concentrators on the ground at the Nasrec Intermediate Care field hospital. Two donors paid for us to buy 20 oxygen concentrators and other donor funds helped us to rent 50 more,” said Lynne Wilkinson, who is part of the volunteer initiative. They first raised the alarm on Friday that more provision had to be made for patients needing oxygen – but at the time it was very difficult to find oxygen concentrators in the province as people had stockpiled them in case they might need them.

“Air Liquide and their South African counterpart Vital Air made the reduced cost of rental possible and delivered within 24 hours of us making contact. We are unbelievably appreciative,” she said.

“We spent the weekend managing the arrival of the concentrators, orienting and training volunteer staff and getting ourselves organised to receive intermediate care patients who are stable from the big public sector hospitals, but still need oxygen to free up higher care beds. Our first five patients are arriving this afternoon (Monday) from Helen Joseph Hospital with volunteer doctors and nurses ready to receive them,” she said.

Gauteng is now the epicentre of the Covid-19 pandemic with about 5,000 new cases a day and close to 100,000 cases of people testing positive for the coronavirus. The province is experiencing a public hospital crisis as all state hospitals have reached capacity and there is an urgent need to assist patients with oxygen.

Oxygen concentrators filter surrounding air, compress it to the required density, and then deliver purified medical-grade oxygen to the patient. The machines cost R16,000 each, but as they use air and not bottled oxygen there is no need to purchase oxygen cylinders.

The Nasrec Field Hospital on Friday had only 450 low acuity beds for patients who are self-caring and do not require oxygen. But the provincial government indicated that they were in the process of expanding the field hospital by a further 800 beds and said more staff had been commissioned.

Minister of Health Dr Zweli Mkhize also mentioned in his briefing on Monday 13 June that there was a concerted effort to recruit nurses through agencies and open calls for Gauteng to assist with the rapidly increasing number of cases in that province. He indicated that the first cohort of newly recruited nurses was allocated to hospitals on Monday.

With their small high care unit up and running, Wilkinson said that they now want to expand to 150 beds and continue to cover the rental of oxygen concentrators for the remainder of the beds.

“We also have identified other needs which the low acuity patients currently at NASREC need such as bedpans, commodes, screens on wheels and washbasins.

“We have met with Minister Mkhize and the Gauteng MEC for Health who have been very supportive and will work together to increase bed capacity, piped oxygen and more permanent human resources,” she said.

Wilkinson said while the extreme generosity of donors ensured that they have enough funds for all the urgent equipment they require, they really need volunteers.

“We still need more clinical volunteers to staff the temporary plan while more permanent personnel are made available. We are reaching out to all doctors, nurses, clinical associates and physiotherapists. There is no remuneration at present but a commitment by government to work towards paying volunteer staff,” Wilkinson said. Prospective volunteers needed valid registration with the Health Professions Council of South Africa or the South African Nursing Council.

She added the Gauteng MEC for Health Dr Bandile Masuku had even offered to do a night shift or two.

Wilkinson said they had established a solid working relationship with the Gauteng Department of Health.

“We are working together so that we can act quickly and help the public sector patients who need oxygen,” she said.

Minister of Health Dr Zweli Mkhize also mentioned in his briefing on Monday 13 June that there was a concerted effort to recruit nurses through agencies and open calls for Gauteng to assist with the rapidly increasing number of cases in that province. He indicated that the first cohort of newly recruited nurses was allocated to hospitals on Monday.

Mkhize said oxygen had been distributed by Afrox over the weekend and government was assured that hospitals would not run out.

“There are continued efforts to increase beds and ensure that field hospital beds are equipped with hospital reticulation,” Mkhize said. He appealed to Gauteng citizens to voluntarily go into quarantine facilities if they were not able to isolate themselves at home.

If you can help you can get in touch by emailing [email protected] or sending a WhatsApp message to Wilkinson on 072 509 7947 or contact Dr Tom Boyles via WhatsApp on 079 108 1876. DM/MC

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