Authorities in Colombia’s third largest city Cali never reported that at the Cristo Rey hospital, eight health workers were confirmed to be infected with the coronavirus.
In a context where — in less than a week — five health workers (four doctors and one ambulance driver) died from the coronavirus, it is urgent to put the magnifying glass on the measures taken by medical institutions, the protection of their workers and patients, and the social responsibility to treat contagious outbreaks in the city with the second highest number of infections registered in Colombia.
I interviewed a confidential source, which I am transcribing in this article, about the situation in Cali.
The source asked to remain anonymous due to the fear of reprisals that sources may have, for disobeying a guideline of the Colombian Association of Hospitals and Clinics (ACHC) that states that “the information to the public about suspicious and confirmed cases will be made directly by the Ministry of Health. Hospitals should avoid disseminating reports of confirmed or suspected cases,” a guideline I believe is unconstitutional because it censors information that is of public interest.
What measures has the clinic taken for the prevention [of Covid-19]?
On March 18, we were given an N95 mask that was supposed to last us a month. We’re waiting to see if they’ll renew the mask on April 18.
Besides the mouthpiece that was supposed to last a month, what other measures has the hospital taken to prevent infection?
We were sent to isolation after they realized the head nurse had tested positive for Covid. The thing is that the chief had symptoms since March 14 and the mouthpieces were given on March 18. A dedicated floor was also set up for patients diagnosed with Covid who required ICU or hospitalization, and a service for patients with respiratory symptoms. I don’t really know if the staff in those areas are being given PPE (Personal Protection Equipment).
What is the contagion hypothesis?
Apparently the boss was infected outside. We hadn’t received patients with respiratory problems at the time.
And the others were infected through the boss?
Yes, she was very symptomatic and went to work like that. They are giving her a lot of trouble for this.
On what date were the eight people diagnosed as infected?
Around the first week of April.
Those quarantined after the diagnoses were all personnel or only those who had been diagnosed?
Those who presented any kind of respiratory symptoms at the time and those who met the criteria for close contact.
On what date were you quarantined?
On March 25 [11 days after the head nurse started showing symptoms].
How many days passed between the diagnoses and when they decided to quarantine you?
They didn’t want to say outright on what date the boss’s result came in. We were informed on the 24th at 11PM, and on the 25th we didn’t come back because of the quarantine.
The quarantine was at home?
The infected people worked in which areas?
All of them?
All of them including the boss, who was the first.
Has this area been closed, suspended or temporarily decommissioned?
There was only one O.R. left, maximum two, because of the lack of personnel who were in isolation.
This was due to the lack of personnel or because of the risk situation? I mean, did the area as such stop working completely, or were some workers left there to do their jobs?
There were workers left to carry out their work. It’s a clinic specialized in trauma, surgery is one of the services that is most profitable, they wouldn’t shut down completely.
And were they equipped with personal protection equipment according to the guidelines of the Colombian Association of Infectology?
Just the mask and gloves for procedures and contact with patients
Were they given acrylic masks?
There are two in each O.R.
Two masks for how many O.R. workers?
There are five people in each operating room, but when you’re hired they give you each a pair of protection glasses that you have to return when the contract is over or you resign.
On top of that, do they give you disposable uniforms?
Not to us.
Have more cases of infected health personnel, or infected individuals, been confirmed since the quarantine?
Of those in isolation who were infected, is anyone in intensive care?
Did the hospital publish any kind of statement about the situation?
I contacted the Cristo Rey Clinic who confirmed that the ER area was functioning without interruption throughout the quarantine.
This contrasts the intensive care unit at the Olaya Polyclinic Center in Bogota that was temporarily closed Sunday after detecting an active outbreak and a chain of transmission of Covid-19 among health professionals of that medical institution as announced by the capital’s Health Secretary.
That same day, the Health Ministry announced the deaths of two doctors in Cali because of Covid-19.
We regret to report the death of two doctors in the city of Cali from coronavirus. Those who die fighting for the lives of others deserve full recognition. We express our condolences to their families and loved ones.
The deceased doctors referred to in the statement are Oscar Gonzalez of Comfenalco, and Jesus Antonio Cabrales of the Mario Correa Hospital.
In the light of the deaths of health workers, the remorse sound hollow, considering the fact that of Colombia’s medical personnel, according to the Colombian Medical federation, “93% have no bio-protection uniforms, 89% have no face shield and 88% have no mask.”
I tried to get in touch with the Secretary of Health of Cali, Miyerlandi Torres, in multiple ways to ask her what the surveillance and supervision of the protection measures of the health workers in the Cristo Rey Clinic, Comfenalco, Mario Correa Hospital and in the city’s hospitals in general have consisted of.
I also wanted to know what percentage or how many of the infections in Cali correspond to health workers; how many and which areas of the clinics that have been a focus of contagion have been temporarily suspended.
Until publication of this piece I have had no response.
Cali is a city that currently has barely 615 ICUs, and according to Mayor Jorge Ivan Ospina, is responsible for the healthcare a regional population of nearly 5 million people.
This is a disturbing panorama, if one takes the under-registration into account.
In addition, the Inspector General’s Office reported a few weeks ago that 80% of the samples of coronavirus taken by hospitals throughout the country do not meet the essential requirements, because they arrive poorly labeled, illegible and with incomplete data for the respective registration.
This makes it difficult and impossible to study the collected samples.
In Cartagena, Zarzal and other cities of the country, there have been massive resignations of doctors, for not having protective elements to reduce the risk of infection of coronavirus.
In the context of these struggles for the necessary conditions to face the coronavirus pandemic, more than 200 clinics (with nearly 2,000 ICUs) grouped in UNips, opposed to assuming the responsibility that the Government transferred to them to provide protective elements for health personnel, given the economic crisis they are facing.
According to RCN News, “many of the institutions are working at 30% capacity and the EPS’s owe them millions of dollars they say do not allow them to attend the emergency. They stress that they cannot accept the responsibility of providing protection elements to the health personnel. According to these institutions, they have not received a peso of the disbursements announced by the government and with the low capacity that they have at the moment because of the pandemic, they do not have resources to provide for this.”
Rest in peace, Colombian healthcare system.
Our leaders never came up with a health system like that of the United Kingdom, Canada, or Cuba. Instead, they came up with a replica of the neoliberal healthcare model of the United States, the epicenter of the pandemic that to date has registered 619,607 people infected with Covid-19, of whom 27,760 have died.