SANTIAGO – Frontline health workers say the situation in the San José Hospital in the district of Independencía is worse than authorities want to believe. They say the government is lying about the availability of mechanical ventilators, among other things. A lack of ventilators is specifically cited as the cause of death for a 36-year-old Covid-19 patient this last weekend.
Health workers in the San José Hospital in Independencía dispute the assessment of their director and the Chilean government. The hospital has been asking authorities for several days for urgent extra equipment – such as ventilators and hospital beds. This hospital is the only major hospital in the northern zone of Santiago and currently nearly all intensive care beds are occupied.
This weekend, a 36-year-old man died from Covid-19 in the hospital. According to health workers, he died because there were no ventilators available. It has also been reported that a 60-year-old woman couldn’t even enter the hospital as there was no room for additional patients and that she died after laying in an ambulance for 13 hours. After reports came out of the deceased patients, at the daily presser, Artuo Zuñiga, Undersecretary of Health Networks, denied the accusations and said there were ventilators available.
This outraged hospital workers, who said the fatalities could have been avoided and are publicly blaming the government for lying about the reality the hospital is experiencing. According to hospital paramedic Gloria Pinto live on CHV, the situation in the hospital is critical. “If today a patient from the northern part of Santiago – with more than one million people living there – needs mechanical ventilation, we do not have the capacity to provide it.”
Gloria Pinto, paramédico Hospital San José le pregunta a las autoridades lo que muchos también nos estamos preguntando: ¿donde están los ventiladores mecánicos, donde están los 8 mil funcionarios que nombra el ministro? porqué acá (servicio público) no están! #ContigoCHV pic.twitter.com/Qhx0p77V21
— 😊🖕🏻 (@_hijademinero) May 11, 2020
She also said that authorities are not concerned about the mental health of the workers at the site: “We can’t sleep, the nightmares keep coming back. It is terrible to live what we are living today.” Pinto added that the hospital so far has not seen the medical equipment and reinforcements the authorities have promised. “Where are those mechanical ventilators really? Where are those 8,000 health professionals that the minister says are hired? The authorities are not taking care of anything. They come out to deny everything that we public service workers are denouncing,” Pinto said.
Bodies Piling Up at San José Hospital
In a separate interview with daily La Tercera, two doctors confirm patients are indeed dying because there are no ventilators. A collapse during wintertime is nothing new, they say. The public health system in these parts of the capital is already so heavily pressured that every year it happens that people die because they don’t receive proper treatment. The doctors, however, wonder why authorities didn’t take precautions if they knew a peak was coming in May.
The San José Hospital is even planning on ordering a container to be able to store bodies of deceased Covid-19 patients. Because families in the zone are under quarantine, they often can’t come to pick up these bodies, resulting in a pile up. Ambulances often must wait up to 12 hours to deliver patients, due to the lack of space on the intensive care. Up to 15 critical patients are sent away every day. To be able to take care of the nearly 300 patients with respiratory problems who visit the hospital every day, the hospitals has borrowed army tents to cope with the lack of space. The only major hospital in the northern part of Santiago, where the coronavirus outbreak is peaking, is collapsing.
This begs the question: Could this have been avoided? Doctors at the hospital indicate the answer is an emphatic yes. They say the government is not focusing enough on the public health sector, which services 80 percent of the Chilean population. Earlier last week, Independencía mayor Gonzalo Durán and Representative Karol Cariola visited the hospital, and, according to the statement on the district’s website, the board of the hospital previously warned about the critical situation at the hospital, referring to lack of equipment and space and the long wait times for arriving ambulances.
Editor-In-Chief Boris van der Spek is the founder of Chile Today. He worked in Colombia, Surinam and the Netherlands as reporter and works with international media during major events, like the social crisis, the elections and the Pope’s visit.