SANTIAGO – The situation in hospitals in Santiago is worsening by the day. Testimonies from health workers on the front line of the battle against the coronavirus tell the story of a system on the brink of collapse. The lack of ventilators and ICU beds could soon force doctors to make tough decisions.
The record numbers presented during daily pressers by Health Minister Jaime Mañalich are a reflection of a battle that public hospitals in Santiago’s lower income districts are about to lose. San José Hospital in Independencía, one of the biggest public hospitals in the capital, was forced to set up a three-step process to control the increasing influx of Covid-19 patients.
After a first assessment outside the hospital, patients with symptoms enter a tent where they need to wait up to two days before getting admitted to the intensive care unit of the hospital. On Sunday and Monday (May 24-25), lines of at least a dozen ambulances waited outside the clinic to deliver patients.
As coronavirus numbers increase in Chile, with nearly 90 percent of all registered cases concentrated in Santiago, more hospitals in the region sound the alarm bells, warning that it will be a matter of days before doctors will have to choose between patients when deciding who will get a mechanical ventilator and an ICU bed.
Dr. Claudia Vega, head of the intensive care unit at El Carmen Hospital and spokeswoman for the Chilean Society of Intensive Medicine (Sochimi) told T13, “We do not have any more intensive care beds available, despite the expansion we made. Our ICU is also in a critical situation, we do not have more ventilators. We are very much at the limit.” According to Vega, she is already choosing based on survival probability the patients who get ICU beds.
Numbers Indicate a Critical Situation
According to the latest numbers from Sochimi, only 3 percent of ICU beds in the entire Metropolitan region are currently available. Out of a total of 1,138 beds, 1,100 are occupied – 833 by Covid-19 patients. On a national level, it’s not much better: 86 percent of the total 2,169 ICU beds are occupied.
In their struggle to add more ICU beds to the Chilean health system, the government announced it would turn the former Central Post Hospital, the new Santiago Metropolitan Hospital (ex-Felix Bulnes) and the new Cordillera de Las Condes Clinic into 100% intensive care facilities to deal with the explosive increase in cases.
Nevertheless, during today’s presser, Mañalich dismissed the idea that the country is facing a possible collapse of the public health system. “We have not reached the debate that we need to decide who gets the last bed or ventilator,” he said. “It might be, however, that in some hospitals two patients need to get connected to the same mechanic ventilator.”
Editor-In-Chief Boris van der Spek is the founder of Chile Today.