Hospital Covid ward ready for activation

Saturday 23 January 2021 | Written by Emmanuel Samoglou | Published in Health, National

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Hospital Covid ward ready for activation
Medical supplies and protective gear for hospital staff is well stocked at the hospital’s Covid-19 ward. Photo: EMMANUEL SAMOGLOU. 21012218

Protective gear is in stock, staff have been trained, and renovations are complete at a specially-equipped and segregated ward at Rarotonga Hospital, where severely ill patients will be treated should coronavirus arrive in the Cook Islands.

It’s a situation government is trying to avoid, but officials at Rarotonga’s Hospital say they’re prepared for a worst case scenario – the arrival of the Covid-19.

“We are a very small country, our resources are limited, not only with equipment but also with manpower too. I cannot say that we are prefect, but we can only be as ready as we are,” said Dr Yin Yin May.


Rarotonga Hospital’s director of health services Dr. Yin Yin May and hospital nurse manager Nga Manea in one of the Covid-19 ward’s negative pressure rooms, which was previously used for maternity services. Photo: EMMANUEL SAMOGLOU. 21012219

As Covid-19 began spreading rapidly around the world last March, government made an effort to revamp the delivery of healthcare by moving the hospital’s Out-Patients and Emergency Department (OPED) services to the Tupapa Community Clinic, clearing the way for Covid-19 care to be established at the hospital.

Since then, health officials under the guidance of then-Health Ministry Secretary Dr Josephine Aumea Herman have been working to set up a dedicated facility to accommodate any potential and serious cases of Covid-19.

The result is a 32-bed isolation ward that also includes 10 beds in two negative pressure rooms to treat critically ill Covid-19 patients, as well as other infectious illnesses.

Renovations also included a new oxygen plant, set up of four ventilators, and an upgrade of the ward’s electrical wiring at a combine cost of over $650,000 according to health officials.

Dr May said the ward will be separated with barriers and no cars will be allowed to park in the building’s vicinity.

Should a positive Covid-19 case be identified in the community, the Covid-19 ward – which has been named the ‘Te Kou ward’ – will be immediately activated by hospital staff, she said.

Dr May said as only a small portion of cases require hospital care, she insists the ward will be sufficient to treat the critically ill in the event of a Covid-19 outbreak.

Numbers published by the United States’ Centers of Disease Control and Prevention this month put the hospitalisation rate for Covid-19 at 380.3 hospitalisations per 100,000 population.


Te Marae Ora has had the ability to test for Covid-19 in-country since May 2020 using a GeneXpert machine, which uses cartridges (seen here) that have been in short supply worldwide. Photo: EMMANUEL SAMOGLOU. 21012216

For cases of the virus that do not require hospital care, she said patients will be asked to isolate at home and will be monitored by health staff at community health centres in Rarotonga’s 10 punas.

“Patients that do not need respiratory support will be isolating at home or at community health centres if needed,” she said.

Health staff have been undergoing training and will receive in-person training from visiting New Zealand health officials next month, said Rarotonga Hospital’s nurse manager Nga Manea.

At the Tupapa facility where emergency services have been relocated, road and parking space upgrades have been made to improve patient flow.

A standalone tent has also been set up to assess any suspected Covid-19 cases, health officials said.

Further major works being carried out by Te Marae Ora include an in-progress CT scan outfit, a mental health facility, and upgrades to the ministry’s information technology systems, at a combined cost of roughly $3 million.