Tartu University Hospital expands emergency ward to treat COVID-19 patients

Tartu University Hospital.
Tartu University Hospital. Source: kliinikum.ee

The Tartu University Hospital is increasing its level of preparedness for receiving coronavirus (COVID-19) patients in need of emergency hospitalization and has temporarily expanded its emergency department.

Chairman of the hospital's management board Priit Eelmäe said the change was necessary to meet the increased need for medical care should the number of patients requiring emergency hospitalization go up.

"From March 20, the Tartu University Hospital has the capability to treat patients in need of emergency medical care in two separate wards. The current emergency ward is planned to house COVID-19 patients only, and a supplementary emergency room for non-COVID-19 patients will be set up on the ground floor of the haematology and oncology clinic," Eelmäe said.

Changes in the organization of work were developed by the hospital's crisis committee for minimizing the possible spread of COVID-19 among inpatients and increase preparedness should the number of patients suddenly surge.

Head of the crisis management team Joel Starkopf said Tartu University Hospital has already introduced movement restrictions and social distancing measures by postponing outpatient treatment and planned activities.

"In order to restrict workers' and patients' movement between wards, the crisis management team has issued guidelines for reorganizing work by department. A fourth intensive care ward has been created along with two wards for infectious diseases for COVID-19 patients. For patient protection purposes, the capacity of the emergency room has likewise been increased," Starkopf said.

The second emergency room for non-COVID-19 patients can be accessed through a mobile triage unit set up for a preliminary assessment of the patient's medical needs. If a patient has recently developed either a cough, sore throat of breathing difficulties and a fever of at least 37.8 degrees Celsius, they will be sent to the first ward for COVID-19 patients.

Patients requiring hospital treatment may increase next week.

Speaking on ETV's "Ringvaade" Starkopf said there may be an increase next week in the number of patients with COVID-19 needing to be treated in hospital.

He said there are currently four people who have tested positive for coronavirus in Tartu University Hospital, but the hospital is preparing to receive more patients.

"Prediction is a thankless task, but forecasting models say that the need for hospitalization will increase from the beginning of next week, at the end of next week and beyond," he said.

Starkopf said it is too early to say when the number of new patients will start to decline. "We are waiting two weeks from the emergency situation and then we may be able to assess the situation in the country more accurately. At the moment, we are on standby and fully prepared," he said.

The hospital's biggest concern right now is personal protective equipment because it is very expensive but difficult to access. He confirmed the hospital has a stock of personal protective equipment for the next three to four weeks.

Microbiologist: A mask should be worn only by the sick

Paul Naaber, head of infectious diseases at Synlab, said on "Ringvaade" as COVID-19 is spread by droplets, it should not spread more than two meters or stay airborne for long.

He said the mask should be worn by the sick so they don't spread the virus themselves. Adding the mask should not be worn for more than three hours in a row and should be discarded rather than put in a pocket and used again.

"If a patient puts on a homemade mask to prevent the drops from going forward, it will probably protect others," he said.


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Editor: Helen Wright

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