With more than a thousand newly confirmed cases reported almost every day, many of them have ended up being left uncared for and dying due to shortages of hospital beds for COVID-19 treatment. Three confirmed cases in their 70s and 80s at a nursing hospital in Bucheon, Gyeonggi Province were not able to get proper treatment with any empty bed left for them, eventually dying two to five days after diagnosis. A patient in his or her 90s in Ulsan failed to be transferred to a medical center for treatment and passed away. Likewise, a confirmed patient in his or her 60s in Seoul waited for a bed to be assigned for hospitalization for three days and died home on Tuesday. The case was categorized as an asymptomatic patient, which inevitably made it impossible to take swift action against a worsening disease. However, all of this implies the profound signals of the South Korean medical system collapsing gradually.
As of now, only 40-plus intensive care beds are available across the nation. Although more than 70 percent of new cases are reported on a daily basis in the Seoul metropolitan area, only a few IC beds are empty by region across Seoul, Incheon and Gyeonggi Province. As many as almost 600 confirmed patients across Seoul have no option but to stay home under self-insolation waiting for hospitalization and intensive care. Gyeonggi Province has reported more than 250 patients on the waiting list for beds.
In spite of such a nationwide distress, there is lack of momentum for securing available beds. The key lies in private-sector hospitals with around 90 percent of the beds in the country. However, only a few of them - Bagae Hospital in Pyeongtaek and Soon Chun Hyang Hospital in Bucheon, Gyeonggi Province - took the initiative to reach out to the government. Privately-run medical centers do not trust the government to fully compensate them for the provision of hospitalization beds. When the first wave of the pandemic hit hard Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province, Daegu Dongsan Hospital willingly supplied all its beds for COVID-19 patients for 115 days. Since then, it has struggled financially with the stigma as a COVID-19 hospital attached to it. The South Korean government shall put in place a system for COVID-19 charge fees and compensations as soon as possible to encourage privately-run medical centers to join.
Despite the government’s effort to make enough beds available in public hospitals, a shortage of medical professionals gets in the way of making the full use of the beds. Only half of 120 beds available in Central Bohun Hospital, Seoul are used for treatment as it has a hard time supplying medical professionals for COVID-19 patients. As Seoul set up temporary test stations, an increasing amount of testing needs has led to a worse shortage of medical professionals. In response, the government plans to mobilize juniors and seniors at the Korea Armed Forces Nursing Academy for the first time in history. What’s worse, as med school students refused to take the state medical licensing exam, it will create a vacuum at the forefront of the medical field with the nation short of 2,700 interns next year. Under these circumstances, the government should make it clear if it has any idea to address the insufficient supply of medical professionals.