Coronavirus intensive care beds filling up fast

A COVID-19 department at the North Estonia Medical Center.
A COVID-19 department at the North Estonia Medical Center. Source: North Estonia Medical Center (PERH)

Estonian hospitals have been taken to the limit during the coronavirus pandemic - as of Thursday morning, there were only seven open intensive care beds for coronavirus patients. Hospitals are scrambling to add new beds each day.

Health Board emergency medicine chief Urmas Sule said there were 423 hospital beds in Estonia that could be used for coronavirus patients. This also includes intensive care beds. Of the 423 beds, 406 were occupied on Thursday, leaving only 17 open beds.

There were 43 third-degree intensive care beds for coronavirus patients on Thursday morning, 36 of them were occupied.

Sule said the numbers change daily. As need grows, more hospital beds are created. This all comes at the cost of other treatments, however.

"We have two bed places that are prepared for the islands, Hiiumaa and Saaremaa. These beds cannot be used to treat mainland patients, they are meant for potential patients requiring third-degree intensive care on the islands. We can keep them there temporarily until a helicopter or other transport can go get them," Sule said.

The situation at Tartu University Hospital is most dire. There are a total of 19 intensive care beds at the hospital and they were all but filled - there were 18 patients in intensive care, that number has dropped down to 15.

Tartu University Hospital anesthesiology and intensive care manager Juri Karjagin said the process of creating hospital beds is complicated. He said it is not as simple as bringing in more beds, they require oxygen connections.

"To put it figuratively, we cannot just manage with extension cords. Therefore, we have a plan. If our capacity exceeds 19, we have another place in the hospital where we can create five beds where most of the communications exist. And if there are more, we basically have operating rooms. Each operating room is basically one intensive care bed. They are large in space, maybe we can have two each in operating rooms," Karjagin said.

He said an even greater issue is with finding enough staff to deal with the coronavirus patients. "In spring, six months ago, during the first wave - we knew that we had the vaccine, everyone would be vaccinated, that it would be this effort. We run 200 meters, we run fast, we make it to the finish and can rest," Karjagin said.

"But what happened was that we made an effort, did overtime, we squeezed our staff and are now facing a similar wave. And the staff is not keen to do this job anymore," the doctor said.

Karjagin added hospital staff currently work on multiple positions and that they are tired. The financial compensation no longer motivates doctors working with coronavirus patients.

A COVID-19 ward at the North Estonia Medical Center. Source: North Estonia Medical Center


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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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