Woman dies at Covid treatment center amid dismal staff shortage

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Woman dies at Covid treatment center amid dismal staff shortage

A woman in her 50s died at a Covid-19 residential treatment center, used for patients with mild symptoms, as there were too few nurses available to attend to an overload of patients.
Her relatives claim she did not receive proper treatment due to the lack of medical personnel in the treatment center, even though the deceased had a high fever and showed symptoms of pneumonia while being in the center.
According to the Central Disaster Management Headquarters and authorities in Incheon, the woman, aged 58, entered a Covid-19 residential treatment center located in Incheon's Yeonsu District on Aug. 1 after being diagnosed with the coronavirus.
Her temperature was slightly higher than 37 degrees Celsius (98.6 degrees Fahrenheit), like other coronavirus patients, and her X-rays did not detect any signs of pneumonia.
Three to four days later, however, she developed symptoms such as coughing and headaches along with a higher fever and was prescribed medicine by the medical staff.
Four days after entering the facility, on Aug. 5, she was found to have pneumonia based on newer X-rays and was prescribed additional antibiotics. Her body temperature once rose to 39 degrees but dropped back between 37 to 38 degrees Celsius, and her oxygen saturation level — a measure to determine the severity of the condition — was 98 to 99 percent.
Normal oxygen saturation levels generally range from 95 percent to 100 percent, and blood oxygen levels below 90 percent are considered very concerning.
The medical staff decided to observe her symptoms and relocate her to a bigger Covid-19 designated hospital on Aug. 9, as her pneumonia did not appear serious enough to transfer immediately based on her X-rays and normal oxygen saturation levels.
Her last health test was on Aug. 8, with a fever of 38.1 degrees Celsius and oxygen levels at 97 percent.
But the next morning on Aug. 9, the woman was found dead in her room at the center, just ahead of her relocation.
The relatives of the deceased decried that she did not receive proper treatment and pointed out that the center lacked medical personnel.
“My wife complained that she was very ill and couldn't eat well, but all she got was some painkillers and antibiotics,” the husband said in a phone call with the JoongAng Ilbo.
“That is not a residential treatment center, but a segregation center for confirmed patients,” he said, adding, “I hope this kind of situation doesn't happen again."
The family filed a petition on the Blue House website last Saturday calling for an investigation into the exact cause of the woman's death, which gathered over 4,900 signatures as of Wednesday.
In the Ministry of Health and Welfare's guidelines for treatment centers, seven to 11 doctors and nine to 16 nurses are recommended to be assigned per 200 to 300 patients.
At the treatment facility in Incheon, however, only 16 medical staff — one doctor, one radiologist and 14 nurses — had been working in shifts.
On the day of the woman’s death, there were 222 patients hospitalized in the center, but only two nurses were said to have been present, with no doctors on site.
“Signs of work overload in the medical system are being seen in many ways, accompanying the rise in new infections, and this seems to be one of those signs,” said Kim Woo-joo, a professor of infectious diseases at Korea University Guro Hospital.
“There could be holes in the system due to the complete saturation of residential treatment centers and the lack of their medical staff," Kim said.

BY SEO JI-EUN, HWANG SU-YEON, SHIM SEOK-YONG [seo.jieun1@joongang.co.kr]
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