Their mission in these times is to lead the battle against the pandemic from the front line, with their health teams working around the clock as the visible face of response in the San Nicolás and Ramallo hospitals in Argentina. Find out how they rise to the challenge and tackle the uncertainties created by Covid-19 in this article, the first in the series "Protagonists", published by Gente del Acero.
Coming to terms with the sheer scale of the events was the first step, reminisces Dr. Pablo Gavazza, director of the San Felipe de San Nicolás Hospital. He says that in early March, when the coronavirus first made its appearance on the front pages of the newspapers in Argentina, he had to stop and take stock of the gravity of the situation and its implications for the hospital. This prompted a period where changes had to be made in terms of the structural aspects of the premises, such as splitting it into two using physical barriers, the "Covid-19 zone" and the general ER area. Immediate decisions had to be taken regarding the infrastructure that had not been planned. At the same time, the medical team took a crash course in infectology, taking classes from a biochemist virologist, and also involving the mental health team, because the situation created a great deal of anxiety and tension in the community.
"We are ready to fight against Covid-19 in the best way we can: readying ourselves with biological protection using physical safeguards such as masks, and building up our knowledge base as the days go by." Pablo Gavazza, Director of the San Felipe Hospital.
This proactive attitude is a key driver for the San Nicolas health team, numbering 600 people; both Dr. Juan Manuel Despósito and Dr. Guillermo Van Kemenade, respectively the director and executive director of the Gomendio Hospital in Ramallo, highlight the exemplary degree of commitment shown by all the team members.
"The attitude from the word go was to work as a team, to collaborate continuously and quickly adapt to changes as they happened. This situation is very different from what we were used to: it’s a new, unknown disease, which in itself is a trigger for anxiety, but we all pulled together to prepare for this contingency."
At the Gomendio Hospital, functional changes were made when three containers outside the hospital were reconditioned to receive patients presenting with a high fever, treat them and refer them for more specific treatment according to their diagnosis. Meanwhile in the ER, the shock room was split up to keep patients more isolated. Other initial decisions concerned the purchase of supplies for PPE and stepping up training for the health teams, paramedics and cleaning staff.
"We have a long-standing relationship with our people which means we work comfortably together, focused on providing the best care and support we can to our patients, which is what we were trained to do," explains Despósito.
In this unprecedented global scenario, getting help and external collaboration to hospitals is essential. To the contributions made by the National Ministry of Health, municipalities, NGOs and volunteers, were added supplies and medical equipment from Ternium, earmarked for the main health centers in the region for a total of USD 1.2 million.
"Ternium is providing us with support on a daily level and we are permanently in communication with them. In our case, as we offer only basic hospitalization without complexity, we were able, thanks to the company, to improve diagnostic imaging and ambulance mobility, as well as provide higher quality care to patients," share the directors of the Gomendio Hospital.
Dr. Gavazza, who took up his post just two months ago, believes that the pandemic is a global health challenge that will change the world as we know it. "We are all learning. In my case, I feel that I’ve learned to listen to and understand people better," he explains.
"Sometimes, I have to say, I think this is a nightmare," adds Despósito. "But we must continue to provide all the professionalism and care that we can."
"The Covid-19 has not only put the world's health systems to the test, but also the resilience of communities. It creates stress and uncertainty,” says Van Kemenade. "It is sure to leave a vast learning experience in its wake, as governments rethink their public health policies. Even our hospital will be in quite a different situation in terms of technology and science standards, improving its quality of care, which will be a very positive thing.”
Finally, in a message addressed to the communities neighboring their respective hospitals, the directors of both institutions emphasize the need for people to follow the hygiene and safety protocols. These include washing hands frequently, using facemasks without considering these to be a failsafe safety measure, and continuing to observe the social distancing measures, in general adhering to the instructions outlined by the Argentine Ministry of Health, the province of Buenos Aires and the municipalities involved.
"We also need to provide people who test positive for Covid with support rather than harassment. And we must counteract this sense of collective anxiety, rather than following the panic engendered by the social networks that is in some ways more serious than the real pandemic," adds Van Kemenade.
Ternium and its contribution to help palliate the effects of the pandemic
Donations made to health centers in the region include:
- 28 ventilators
- 70 ICU beds and hospitalization beds
- 92 pieces of equipment for health centers, including multiparameter monitors, infusion pumps, oxygen manometers, flowmeters, X-ray equipment.
- 1 ambulance
- 1 CT scan
Biosecurity items / kits:
- 400 liters alcohol gel
- 2,000 N95 surgical masks
- 6,000 disposable facemasks
- 2,400 disposable coveralls
- 1,000 protective glasses
- 6,000 pairs of gloves