A Korean woman in her 40s visited the emergency department at a university hospital in Seoul at 4 a.m. on Saturday, upon occurrence of acute pneumonia, which soon turned out to be COVID-19. Although her condition was exacerbated to the point of necessitating immediate emergency critical care, there were no empty hospital beds because of a spike in the number of severely ill COVID-19 patients. It was not until Tuesday morning that she was finally admitted into makeshift beds.
COVID-19 patients who are held on standby for hospital beds at emergency room are recently surging. Those who tested positive for the coronavirus and wait at their homes and see their conditions exacerbated suddenly or those who came to emergency departments for other reasons and later found their infection now have to wait endlessly at the emergency room until hospital beds are available.
Even until last month, rarely was the case where patients have to wait at the emergency room more than one day. However, the tables have turned since the beginning of this month. Now, patients have to wait as many as three days for hospital beds. A man in his 60s was transferred to the emergency room at another university hospital in Seoul on Nov. 10 but could not find a hospital that could provide both COVID-19 treatment and hemodialysis; he was finally taken in by a hospital in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province on Nov. 12. Another patient had to wait in the emergency room at a medium-sized hospital for five days until finally getting admitted to hospital beds.
Although the fundamental cause lies in a shortage of available hospital beds, it is the health authority’s inflexibility that aggravates the lack of hospital beds. The government increased the number of emergency PCR tests that identify infections in as early as one hour in an initiative to reduce overcrowding in emergency departments. However, hospitals do not admit emergency patients even if they are found Covid-19 positive in emergency PCR tests; rather, they begin the process of assigning patients to hospital beds only after patients are tested positive for the virus in regular PCR tests that take 6 to 8 hours until the results come out.
As emergency rooms are degraded into “a waiting area for available hospital beds,” there are more concerns about non-COVID-19 patients being left abandoned. According to South Korea’s National Emergency Medical Center, around 86% of the hospital rooms equipped with negative pressure in Seoul were reported to be occupied as of 3 p.m. on Tuesday.
Gun-Hee Cho firstname.lastname@example.org