Estonian hospitals preparing to receive injured patients from Ukraine

ICU at North Estonia Medical Center (PERH).
ICU at North Estonia Medical Center (PERH). Source: ERR

In the weeks to come, patients injured in Ukraine are expected to arrive in Estonian hospitals for treatment. ETV's "Aktuaalne kaamera: Nädal" took a look on Sunday at how these hospitals have been preparing, and what other medical aid Estonia can give to Ukraine.

Hoards of people have gathered at the Polish-Ukrainian border, including those offering aid and those who have come to meet their loved ones. Madis Tiik, a family doctor from the Estonian coastal island of Vormsi, and his team hit the road in Estonia on Wednesday, and reached the Ukrainian border a day and a half later.

"Mostly we're seeing simpler health concerns," Tiik said. "Some stomachaches, headaches, and then emotional help as such; a psychologist is actively going around and talking to children."

According to the Vormsi doctor, their team intends to stay at the border for another two weeks, in which time they should get a clearer overview of how much medical aid is needed at the border checkpoint where they are working and whether the next team should head south and take over. He said that cooperation with various aid organizations has become increasingly systemized each day, enabling for improved division of duties.

"The provision of aid is slowly starting to come together now," he said. "It was initially all eager people offering aid arriving from different countries. Not just on the medical side; people offering transport, food aid and emotional aid are all here too." A field hospital from Estonia is expected to arrive at the Polish-Ukrainian border shortly as well.

EU member states are also preparing to accept patients more seriously injured in the war as well. These include not just those injured in battle, but also women and children who have been injured in military attacks. Estonian hospitals are among those prepared to accept patients from Ukraine.

"The European Commission wanted to know by March 1 whether we were prepared to help," said Ministry of Social Affairs Deputy Secretary General on Health Heidi Alasepp. "We said that we are prepared to help. But we are indeed currently assessing our resources and our opportunities, and we will certainly monitor what the official request will be."

Ukrainians previously treated in Estonia

This will not be the first time that Ukrainians injured in the war will be receiving treatment in Estonia. In 2014, 11 Ukrainian citizens were treated at North Estonia Medical Center (PERH) after being injured in battle.

At the time, PERH doctors explained that the selection process for patients was lengthy, and a deciding factor was how well they could withstand being transported all the way to Estonia. Beginning in 2015, injured Ukrainians also underwent treatment at Seli Health Center as well.

Currently, Estonian hospitals could handle providing treatment for approximately 60 people from Ukraine injured in the war, PERH Chief of Medicine Peep Talving said, adding that as Ukraine is far from Estonia — with Lviv located nearly 1,300 kilometers, or 800 miles, south of Tallinn — the transport of patients with life-threatening injuries would be essentially impossible.

"The patients reaching us or that could potentially reach us have infected wounds, soft tissue wounds such as skin wounds, long bone fractures, rib fractures, facial injuries, eye injuries and so on," Talving explained. "In other words, walking, limping patients and patients on crutches."

He said they did not yet know when the first more seriously injured patients may arrive in Estonia, but expected it may be in a week or two at the earliest.

PERH will not be alone in treating the patients to arrive from Ukraine; rather, they will be sent to various other hospitals in Estonia as well, the logistics for which have already been worked out.

"We have reached an agreement with the Health Board and the state that we will direct patients' journeys through commands similar to the way COVID commands have operated — a northern medical command and a southern medical command," Talving said. "PERH's Trauma Center will serve as the lead hospital where incoming patients are brought first. We will triage them and determine what they need — X-rays, lab testing and a doctor's assessment — after which we can direct them further."

As the war continues, more than the initial 60 patients injured in the war may end up receiving treatment in Estonia, Talving continued.

"Right now we need to take into account that our hospitals have a heavy workload, as some 600 COVID patients are currently hospitalized," he said.

Patients to need long-term treatment

Accepting incoming patients from Ukraine will also mean that hospitals will have to take into account that these patients will remain in the system for an extended period, Talving explained. Following hospital treatment, they will also need follow-up treatment and rehab, and they cannot be sent home for in-home treatment. Estonian hospitals also won't have access to these patients' medical histories either, as they will not have their medical records with them.

"That is a doctor's job — you have to ask for a medical history, and clearly they won't speak Estonian, so then you'll have to attempt to ask for it in English, and if English doesn't work, then you need to find interpreters who speak Russian," he said. "I believe we'll also be able to find interpreting services that speak Ukrainian as well; there are 30,000 Ukrainians in Estonia."

War refugees from Ukraine have already arrived at Estonian hospitals with heart disease and diabetes. Alasepp said that no refugees will be left without medical assistance.

"We can vaccinate them against COVID if they are unvaccinated, and we are ensuring that initial health assessments are being offered to those who need it at the accommodation center," the ministry official said. "A health assessment system and a system of monitoring centers are currently in the process of being worked out. This is all happening simultaneously, but emergency care is already currently accessible to all Ukrainian refugees via our service providers. Including if there is someone with a chronic condition and they need a prescription because they don't have their medication — that is emergency care as well."

Meds also being sent to Ukraine

Medications and medical supplies are also among the aid currently being sent from Estonia to Ukraine. The Estonian state is arranging for medical aid to Ukraine in accordance with the list provided by the European Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority (HERA). The first major shipment of medications, to which private companies also contributed, is already en route south.

Money has also been raised via several channels to purchase supplies and equipment, including ambulances, that have also already been sent to Ukraine.

As of noon Friday, €1 million had already been raised to cover the cost of treatment of people injured in the war in Ukraine.

This particular donation drive was organized by the National Defense Promotion Foundation and the Estonian Reserve Officers' Assembly (EROK) together with the Estonian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Ministry of Defense.

EROK board chairman Capt. Villu Õun said that donations ranged in size from a couple of euros to tens of thousands of euros.

"A lot of people are injured in war, and their treatment, especially long-term treatment and rehab, is expensive," Õun explained. "We find that this is our chance to support this treatment, because we as civilian structures can no longer support the Ukrainians with military gear. But these are the injuries that are brought by war, and this is where we can provide support."


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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