The administrators of the Cornwall Regional Hospital (CRH) in Montego Bay, St James, have launched an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of four critically ill COVID-19 patients at the facility last Thursday night.
Reliable Sunday Gleaner sources have said that the deaths occurred after the patients’ oxygen supply ran out and no replacement was provided despite the gas being available at the facility’s secondary storage and in cylinders.
However, Dr Derrick Harvey, senior medical officer (SMO) at CRH, told The Sunday Gleaner that the causes of death were yet to be determined.
“We are trying to find out what really happened because the machines depend on the bulk oxygen that flows through the wall, and these patients demand a lot of oxygen, and the pressure will go down, and when this happens it affects the amount of flow that the patient gets,” he said yesterday. “But what I am seeing so far does not correlate with the fact that there was no bulk oxygen coming through the wall, and based on my preliminary report, there was oxygen in cylinders available to change over. So we are looking to see if there was a delay, if there was a shortage of oxygen from the wall at the time.”
“We are looking to see what was done, how the cases were managed, and if there is a correlation between the report that there was no bulk oxygen available and the deaths of the patients. So I would not say four patients died as a result. Some of the patients were critical, but to say it is a direct cause … I cannot say that,” he added.
Harvey argued that a patient can be on a ventilator, but has an underlying kidney problem. If they die, it might not be because the machine failed.
ELEMENT OF TRUTH
“So we are still looking to see if there is an element of truth that there was no oxygen available at the location that the patients died or was it that these patients were critical,” the SMO explained.
“Was there no change in oxygen? Did people intervene and act appropriately? Was there a problem, and was this directly related to the death of the patients? Did they have no oxygen at all and died as a result,” he added. “Those are the answers we are seeking at this time, but what I do know is that the wall oxygen had run low, but that there were sufficient cylinders available … .”
Harvey was unable to provide a timeline for the conclusion of the enquiry into what is the CRH’s highest one-night COVID-19 death toll.
Last week, two recovering COVID-19 patients detailed their experiences on the COVID-19 wards at the CRH, telling The Sunday Gleaner that they had been sharing their oxygen with other patients in distress who had ran out, with medical staff not around to attend to them.
A shortage of medical oxygen has emerged over the past month as COVID-19 hospital admissions soar, putting pressure on supplies..
Peter Graham, the general manager of Industrial Gases Limited, the sole supplier of medical gas to the health sector, said that there has been a nearly 500 per cent increase in demand for medical oxygen at hospitals in the last month, with facilities like the CRH now being supplied twice daily as opposed to the previous arrangement of every three days.
As at Friday, St James had recorded 3,527 COVID-19 infections. The parsh has recorded 59 COVID-related deaths.