The patients upsurge has prompted GMH to set up beds at the curbside in front the ER Department. Contributed photo
With Covid-19 hospitalizations surging and daily positive cases hitting all-time highs, the coronavirus crisis is pushing the island’s fragile health care system to its limit and causing the 198-bed Guam Memorial Hospital to exceed capacity.
Covid-19 admissions at GMH have increased from 70 to 78 overnight, with 15 in ICU and five on ventilators, according to the Joint Information Center’s latest statistics released today. The JIC figures do not include patients, who are admitted to the hospital for non-Covid related ailments.
The patients upsurge has prompted GMH to create a makeshift receiving area at the curbside in front the ER Department behind the hospital buiding, where about half a dozen beds have been set up for incoming patients.
“It’s overwhelming. This has been going on since last week. We are holding patients in ER and there are no more rooms at all,” said a midlevel GMH official, who requested not to be named. “We had to put some beds outside because we don’t want the medics to be stuck there. Hopefully, we don’t get to a point where we have to treat patients outside."
In a separate interview, a nurse who also requested anonymity said GMH has become extremely crowded that separating Covid from non-Covid cases has become a challenge.
"The worst happened last week. About 90 percent were Covid patients," the nurse said. “New patients wait outside to be seen; sometimes they are seen outside. Some Covid patients with mild symptoms come in for a checkup and then they are sent home.”
The Joint Information Center on Tuesday reported 82 new positive cases, out of 591 samples tested. The rolling average of Guam's positivity rate is between 13 and 14 percent.
Guam’s cumulative Covid tally to 4,418 since March, with 75 deaths, 1,732 cases in active isolation and 2,611 not in active isolation. Besides the 78 at GMH, two more patients are admitted at the Guam Regional Medical City and one at the U.S. Naval Hospital.
Four new Covid-related fatalities were reported in two days alone. According to a forecast model followed by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Guam's death toll would be 81 by Nov. 1.
Of the 82 new cases reported Tuesday, 26 were identified through contact tracing. Three cases reported recent travel--two from the United States and one from the Philippines and were identified in quarantine.
The GMH source said the ER staff has reached its breaking point. “We are so stressed out. Each staff employee is assigned to current patients. We cannot accommodate anymore incoming patients,” the source said. “ Covid patients need to be in a private room and most of them need oxygen.”
A 22-member military medical team sent by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to assist GMH ended their one-month tour on Sept. 30. Last month, GMH announced the arrival of 35 traveling nurses comissioned to reinforce the hospital’s existing staff. The controversial nursing contract, procured under the governor's emergency authority, involves a $145-per-hour fee per nurse.
“Any additional manpower helps but we need more help. We do not have time to train so we need fully trained and more experienced nurses,” the source said. “We care about what we do, we care about the quality of care that we give. But we can only do so much.”
The administration earlier announced GMH had received $11 million from the CARES Act to help the hospital with its Covid-19 response efforts. “We are wondering what happened to that,” the source said.
In a separate interview, the nurse said due to exposure to the coronavirus, the staff level is likely to further shrink.
GMH last month reported that 55 employees were stricken with the coronavirus and some have since returned to work after recovery.
“Two ER staff employees recently tested positive so GMH has to do contact tracing. Those who are exposed and have been swabbed are sent home to self-monitor,” the nurse said. “We are physically overfatigued and emotionally drained. Sometimes we lock ourselves in the bathroom to cry."
A request for comment from GMH administrator Lilian Posadas had not been answered as of this writing.
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