Eric Naki
Political Editor
4 minute read
11 Aug 2020
1:43 pm

Hospitals to get triage centres to deal with Covid-19 peak

Eric Naki

The temporary triage units consist of high-quality, weather-proof marquee-type structures, complete with floors, ventilation, extraction units, all plumbing, ablution facilities lighting and access control.

The Gauteng department of health has committed to eliminating medication shortages. Picture: Neil McCartney

A rapid response that includes erecting semi-permanent additions to existing hospitals to expand the bed space to meet the demand during the Covid-19 peak period, will go national with some already provinces keen to get the “extra rooms”.

The emergency rapid response infrastructure concept had been identified as a solution to the country’s hospital shortages as the country expects Covid-19 infections to peak soon. The idea was pioneered in the Western Cape where it became an imperative when the province was still the country’s Covid-19 epicentre.

The new temporary Covid-19 triage centres and potential field hospitals at Tygerberg Hospital, Victoria Hospital and Paarl Hospital, Ceres, Atlantis, Helderberg, Khayelitsha and Kraaifontein were constructed by temporary infrastructure specialists, Chattels.

The temporary triage units consist of high-quality, weather-proof marquee-type structures, complete with floors, ventilation, extraction units, all plumbing, ablution facilities lighting and access control.

The units served as an extension of the hospital where potential Covid-19 patients could be screened and tested. There are also beds and oxygen available in cubicles for immediate treatment of more acute cases.

Recently during his visit to KwaZulu-Natal, Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize tweeted that he expected that every hospital should have a triage centre. “When we get the increasing numbers, we need to ensure that everything is done to manage with the numbers,” Mkhize said.

Mandy Mulder of Chattels said this was the most viable solution to help meet the escalating need brought by the surge. “The sampling booths in the tent have special systems for rapid air changing to ensure infected patients don’t spread the virus.”

The idea seemed to be gaining momentum, with Eastern Cape and Gauteng tendering processes out and awaiting awarding in anticipation of virus infections surging. Although the Eastern Cape reported a marked decline in infections this week, the province’s derelict hospital infrastructure could benefit from the concept that its creators hoped to expand nationwide.

Some saw this as potential way to reduce spending as there would be no need to hire hotels or B&Bs and other private accommodations for Covid-19 patients that public hospitals could not initially keep, due toa  shortage of bed space at state hospitals. The idea was also borne out by the fact that many state facilities had begun to turn away Covid-19 sufferers whose cases were not serious, to encourage them to recuperate at home.

A few provinces had field hospitals but that’s nowhere near the capacity needed to carry the overload of infection cases expected. Many private facilities were so full that they had to refer cases to public hospitals, especially in the Eastern Cape.

“Massive 500-bed new permanent hospitals will simply not be ready in time for the peak of infections. The only way forward is to supply semi-permanent triage centres linked to existing hospitals. What will work is rapid response infrastructure that is flexible in design and quick to build,” Mulder said.

Chattels has partnered with experienced construction solutions company Profica to deliver vital emergency healthcare facilities across South Africa. Rapid deployment of these facilities has already taken place in the Western Cape to serve increased demands for triage and testing, however, the companies are still awaiting instruction on deployment in other provinces.

Profica are expert medical sector project managers that have delivered large scale hospitals, with medical engineers involved.

Mulder said that while Chattels and Profica have tendered on constructing field hospitals in other provinces, mostly in the Eastern Cape and Gauteng, contracts have not yet been awarded. “We’re losing time and already, the other provinces are too late to do anything on the scale that the Western Cape has, despite weeks of lockdown. We need to move fast and ensure a quality set-up.”

Jaco Nel of Profica says, “Dramatic healthcare capacity expansion is needed, and the pressure is on to find ways to expand and upgrade both temporary and permanent infrastructure in time. We’re ready to give our medical staff at the front lines the best possible environment as they fight the battle against the pandemic.”

Mulder is clear that when you’re dealing with Covid-19, you can’t just put up a normal marquee tent, but have to set up a structure properly equipped to ensure clinical airflow.

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