Two hospitals report slight ease in medical oxygen shortage

The medical oxygen crisis that hit the public health sector a few weeks ago due to rising COVID-19 cases appears to be improving as two of the island’s major facilities — Kingston Public Hospital (KPH) and University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI) — are reporting an improvement in supplies. However, Cornwall Regional Hospital (CRH) in St James is still struggling.

Chief executive officer at KPH Burknell Stewart indicated yesterday that that the hospital has enough oxygen to stay afloat for a “few days” at least, as the hospital has been receiving steady supply of oxygen due to its good relationship with IGL, the sole supplier of the product in Jamaica.

“As it relates to our stock, our units that are used for backup are at full capacity and we are probably down one-third of our tank, which holds almost 10,000 gallons… and our daily usage is about a thousand. Before the end of the day, we should get a top-up,” he said.

“As it relates to portable oxygen, we do have some oxygen in stock and if our supplies run woefully low, we go to IGL ourselves and pick up in a utility vehicle. With the delivery later today, we are comfortable once we reach 6,000 gallons because we know that we will have at least four days’ supply this week,” added Stewart.

His compatriot at UHWI, Kevin Allen, painted a similar picture, saying that the hospital had adequate oxygen supply through its arrangement with IGL.

“I think there is adequate supply despite the world shortage taking place,” he told the Jamaica Observer.

However, clinical coordinator at CRH Dr Delroy Fray shared a totally opposite experience.

Dr Fray told the Observer yesterday that the hospital had been running on about 60 per cent of the oxygen required daily.

“My concern is that if this COVID thing isn’t checked, it will be hard to sustain what we have to do now because we have to pull out every resource from administration, the doctors, the nurses, and resources from the ancillary staff. We would like to get back to a level where we are very comfortable,” he shared.

“We don’t want to run out, so we have to go to other places in the hospital and look at their pattern of use and borrow from them to put in the COVID area so that we don’t have a lag between when supply comes. Sometimes, we have to borrow oxygen tanks from Lucea Hospital in Hanover and Falmouth Hospital in Trelawny, depending on where the truck is and what we anticipate might happen,” Dr Fray said.

“It is very labour-intensive in order to maintain the flow. There are porters dedicated to being shifted around when the need arises. We had good reserve until the flood of COVID patients came and it started to deplete our resources. Without COVID, we used to order oxygen every three days. Now we have to order every day and sometimes twice a day. Once oxygen goes down, we have to find a way to provide it in order to keep people alive,” added Dr Fray.

Just under two weeks ago IGL had said that demand for oxygen had increased by close to 500 per cent at some hospitals and the company had to sometimes make deliveries twice per week to some hospitals. IGL Managing Director Peter Graham had assured the public that his technical team was working with hospitals to modify supply configurations to cope with increased demand and continue to add storage at locations where required.

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