BUENOS AIRES – Argentina’s biggest hospital has been admitting more COVID-19 patients every day, putting an increasing amount of pressure on health workers.
Hospital Posadas is on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, one of the main hotspots of infections in the country, and has a catchment area that is home to seven million people.
The priority is to save lives, limit the transmission of the virus and protect medics in the face of an increasingly rapid spike of infections.
Alberto Maceira, director general of the medical facility, tells EFE that the main concern is that they could run out of beds.
“I think that is the main problem, as was seen in the rest of the world, which is why today it is my most important worry,” he adds.
Posadas is the largest health center in Argentina covering an area of 22,000 square meters near the border between the capital and the neighboring town of Moron.
It employs 5,000 health workers to treat the huge population of the neighboring towns and has had to readjust its services to cope with the pandemic, which hit in early March.
A double circulation of staff was set up to separate general patients from those who have tested positive for COVID-19 and the number of beds with ventilators was increased to 100.
The announcement of a patient transfer activates an internal protocol: the corridors are cleared and the bed is quickly wheeled through while cleaning staff disinfect the area, from the elevator to the corridors, including any doors that have been passed, even if the patient has not touched anything.
Medics live and work under constant tension and fear of contagion, with many of them deciding to isolate themselves from their families to protect them.
Nurses and doctors must abide by strict provisions on the use of protective equipment.
Getting dressed and undressed takes a long time and is done in pairs to help avoid mistakes, which can be very expensive, especially when removing all the gear at the end of a shift.
Unions have complained of a lack of personal protective equipment and increased working hours.
The first coronavirus case in Argentina was detected in early March and the government reacted quickly by putting the country into mandatory lockdown and on March 20.
This helped to slow the infection rate before the virus hit Buenos Aires and its surrounding region, which includes a number of vulnerable neighborhoods beset by poverty and overcrowding.
Authorities have reported more than 26,000 confirmed cases, almost 800 deaths and around 8,500 recoveries.
Maceira says: “We are still in this phase in which we do not know what will happen or when it will happen.”
He adds that there are fears the curve of infection could continue to rise.
A few weeks ago, around 15 suspected COVID-19 patients were arriving each day, which grew to an average of 25 and this week exceeded 40, he says.
There are still a few beds occupied by coronavirus patients, less than 20 of the 520 available in the hospital, and only two people have been admitted to the intensive care unit.
The arrival of winter could exacerbate the situation as the cold season increases demand for beds and pushes the health system to the limit.
Buenos Aires and its surrounding region will remain under lockdown until at least June 28.
Fear of infection has kept people away from the hospital which is a concern for health authorities after almost three months.
In recent weeks the hospital has received more general patients, which Maceira says could be because people have “somewhat lost their fear” or because residents have gone more than 70 days without a medical consultation.
Posadas has launched an awareness campaign to encourage people with chronic diseases to book telephone or video appointments with a specialist.