Hospital calling for tougher measures

Prime Minister Kaja Kallas and Minister of Health and Labor Tanel Kiik. PHOTO: Remo Tõnismäe

The Tartu University Hospital has sent a letter to Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) and Minister of Health and Labor Tanel Kiik (Center) according to which the hospital is working at capacity both in terms of premises and staff. The hospital wrote that the number of people who need hospitalization with Covid cannot be allowed to keep growing and that tougher nationwide measures are in order.

The Tartu University Hospital on Wednesday hiked the number of Covid beds from 85 to 207, which is roughly 20 percent of all beds. “We are forced to make difficult decisions when admitting regular patients and will be forced to do the same in the ER before long if the situation persists,” heads of the hospital wrote.

“We have reached physical capacity and are in a situation where new Covid patients cannot be admitted without dialing back the work of or closing entire wards and clinics. Orderlies, nurses and doctors are at the end of their tether or in some cases beyond. Exhaustion among staff is extensive and systematic,” the hospital emphasized.

Should the number of COVID-19 patients keep growing, the hospital will be forced to lower treatment standards for Covid and other patients that would have a negative effect on the results of treatment, limit planned treatments and restrict access to urgent inpatient care.

“With this in mind, we propose as a short-term crisis management target immediately stopping the increase of Covid patients who require hospitalization. Short-term measures could be relaxed as soon as the nationwide number of Covid patients who require hospitalization drops below 300,” the hospital finds. Estonian hospitals had 572 people with the coronavirus on Sunday.

Head of the COVID-19 scientific advisory council Irja Lutsar recalled how the council has recommended targeted coronavirus restrictions. “For all close contacts to stay home – irrespective of whether one is vaccinated or not. It would be a good start,” Lutsar said. She explained that people whose family members have been diagnosed staying in and avoiding social gatherings, going to the theater etc. would help disrupt chains of infection.

“Let us look at the situation in Põlva County. One cannot help but ask whether people who have been diagnosed are walking around, feeling no responsibility for infecting others. Why can’t they stay home and refrain from infecting others?” Lutsar said. “People have become too indifferent in terms of whether they have been diagnosed or not,” she admitted.

Põlva County sports the highest Covid case rate in Estonia, with the 14-day rate per 100,000 people at 1,810. At the same time, the county sports one of the lowest vaccination rates.

“The situation is serious in Põlva County. Health Board data suggests that outbreaks start at events, schools, apartment buildings and family gatherings. The area is short on nurses and orderlies and the local hospital is under a great deal of pressure,” PM Kaja Kallas said during a video meeting with municipality elder Georg Pelisaar and local medical heads on Saturday.

The PM suggested that the rates of infection and vaccination differ from one region to the next and that local governments have the right to take additional steps to contain the spread.

Head of the regional crisis committee Pelisaar believes nationwide restrictions would be the most effective at bringing down the case rate. “I would stress that while the municipality could order additional measures, it would not be sufficiently effective. The borders are open, people move around and participants of the video conference admitted that the virus spreads mostly among families, in shopping malls and spas,” Pelisaar said.

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