Nfld. & Labrador

Eastern Health sets up COVID-19 unit with space for 30 beds, finding capacity for more

Eastern Health has set up one COVID-19 unit in the Health Sciences Centre in St. John’s and is preparing to set up a second.

Memorial University's Field House to be used as an emergency back up

Eastern Health has a COVID-19 unit in the Health Sciences Centre in St. John's. (CBC)

Eastern Health has set up one COVID-19 unit in the Health Sciences Centre in St. John's and is preparing to set up a second.

David Diamond, president and CEO of Eastern Health, says there are about 30 beds in the unit.

The unit is sealed off and only staff who are caring for patients with COVID-19 are allowed in.

"It has a number of negative pressure rooms, which is part of the technology that helps us keep the patients and staff as safe as possible when we have highly infectious diseases," said Diamond. 

Diamond said they will try to put patients in single rooms, but he admits that's a challenge. 

"We don't have a lot of single private rooms, as you may be aware, in the Health Sciences Centre and so we will be doing as much as we can to not have folks to share rooms, unless we need to," said Diamond.

We're usually quite full, but doing the only emergent and urgent procedures has allowed us to create quite a bit of capacity.- David Diamond

On Monday, the chief medical officer of health, Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, announced the province's first COVID-19-related death: a 78-year-old man with an underlying health condition.

Nine people in the province are hospitalized with COVID-19 and two of them are in intensive care.

"This is a very scary time for all of us in society," said Diamond.

As the pandemic continues, Diamond said Eastern Health is preparing for the worst-case scenario.

That is why the health authority is planning for a second COVID-19 unit in the Health Sciences Centre.

"We anticipate having, certainly for the next week or two, lots of space if we get into the unfortunate circumstances of needing that for patients."

Meanwhile, he's thanking staff on the COVID-19 unit. 

"To be on the front lines of this pandemic, it's amazing to see the people who are doing that," Diamond said. "We're humbled by that and we really appreciate that."

Building extra capacity

Memorial University's Field House will become a backup emergency clinic, if necessary.

Diamond said 10 cots are already set up there.

"We could supplement that quite significantly." said Diamond.

Memorial University's Field House will become a backup emergency clinic, if necessary. (CBC)

He said Eastern Health is discussing caring for other patients there or diverting patients from the emergency department to the Field House. 

In the meantime, Diamond said there are 205 empty hospital beds at the Health Sciences Centre and St. Clare's Hospital in St. John's, which is very unusual, he added.

"We're usually quite full, but doing the only emergent and urgent procedures has allowed us to create quite a bit of capacity,"

Diamond said there are also extra beds in the rural areas of Eastern Health's jurisdiction, which include the Burin and Bonavista peninsulas.

ICU

Two people with COVID-19 are in a 12-bed intensive-care unit in St. John's.

Diamond said another 14 cardiac beds can be turned into ICU beds.

He said other beds in the hospital can transition into ICU beds as long as there's enough equipment, like ventilators.

"We're able to create another unit that we will use as critical care," said Diamond.

There are 79 ventilators in Eastern Health and 150 in the province — which Diamond believes is better than other parts of the country.

Protective equipment

While there is a worldwide shortage of protective equipment like masks, gloves, and face shields, Diamond is not concerned about Eastern Health's stash, in the short term.  

 "We are fine at this point. We're issuing our personal protective equipment based on the best scientific evidence that we can find, with direction from the chief medical officer of health, Dr. Fitzgerald."

He said usage of the equipment depends on the number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized.

N95-rated respirators are considered the best mask for the job by health-care professionals on the front lines of fighting the virus. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Eastern Health is sourcing equipment from as far away as China and working with the federal and provincial governments to get emergency supplies.

Failing that, Diamond said there's a Plan B.

Eastern Health has teamed up with local entrepreneurs and they are expecting prototypes of protective equipment, like masks, as soon as this week.

"We have a process through our Living Lab Innovation Centre at Eastern Health where we can ensure that we have the proper safety specifications and that it meets standards, so that it is actually safe and appropriate for our staff to be using," said Diamond. 

Diamond said he's not worried about the supply of hand sanitizer anymore now that the Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Corporation is producing it. 

10 Eastern Health employees test positive

There are 271 Eastern Health employees self-isolating at home because they have traveled, or because they may have been in contact with someone who has COVID-19 outside the hospital. 

Ten employees have tested positive for the virus. Diamond said they're monitoring the situation. 

"If too many people go down, then that'll be part of the challenge," he said.

Diamond said Eastern Health has set up several emergency operation centres, including one in the Health Sciences Centre.

(CBC News)

He said the centre will help them balance the number of patients with staff, like doctors and nurses. 

During the pandemic, Diamond said, only parents of sick children or someone visiting a patient at the end of their life can enter the hospital. 

Diamond acknowledged the visitor restrictions are tough for people, which is why he said the hospital's phone system is now free to patients.

While in long-term care, he said they're offering residents virtual visits with their family using iPads. 

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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