Latest COVID-19 learnings applied in Polokwane-based hospital

An abundance of caution approach further safeguards patients and healthcare workers

Friday, April 17 2020

The extensive movement of doctors, allied healthcare workers and agency nursing staff between healthcare facilities within Polokwane, as well as the increased incidence of community acquired infections nationally, have recently been identified as a potential COVID-19 risk by Netcare Pholoso Hospital. 

As a result thereof Netcare Pholoso Hospital has responded swiftly to implement a range of additional, precautionary preventative COVID-19 measures in order to address this concern, which is currently and potentially common to many South African healthcare facilities.

“A number of additional measures were carried out to safeguard patients, healthcare professionals, workers and administrative staff across every discipline to ensure that they remained safe and fully protected,” says Erich Bock, regional director: Netcare Hospitals.

“It would appear that our precautionary COVID-19 measures were timeous given that a group of 100 doctors, staff and patients were placed on 14-day home quarantine on Thursday, 12 April 2020 by the Limpopo Department of Health (LDoH), after a doctor tested positive. The doctor in question does not practise at Netcare Pholoso Hospital.

An abundance of caution to contain the spread of the infection
Bock went on to assure the community that safeguarding each and every person in the care of the hospital, staff members, doctors and others who work at Netcare Pholoso Hospital, against COVID-19 and other infections has, and will always be, of paramount importance.

“As part of our abundance of caution approach we have so far tested 564 people, including staff, doctors and allied healthcare practitioners, which is more than 90% of the target group and testing remains ongoing at the hospital.”

The following includes some of the additional precautionary measures which were implemented at Netcare Pholoso Hospital:

  • 97% of our front-line clinical staff members have been vaccinated against influenza. The vaccination of the remaining employees is ongoing.
  • The hospital has been deep-cleaned and completely disinfected. As an additional precaution, terminal cleaning using a high dosage of chlorine, followed by disinfection with the aid of ultraviolet disinfection robots was carried out. This process remains ongoing.
  • The hospital has secured ample stock of personal protective equipment (PPE) which has been distributed to staff members, doctors and contract service providers at the hospital in accordance with the Netcare PPE policy. This conservative policy includes a directive on the wearing of masks during the COVID-19 pandemic which provides greater protection than the current recommendations and guidelines of two highly respected health organisations, namely the World Health Organization (WHO) and the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD). 
  • The hospital re-trained over 440 healthcare workers, other staff members and doctors on the appropriate and correct use of PPE, hand hygiene and social distancing and compliance in this regard is being closely monitored. 
  • The Netcare team is working in close collaboration with the Limpopo Department of Health (LDOH) with all relevant information being proactively shared in the interest of the community, patients, staff members, doctors and the wider healthcare sector. Some of these joint initiatives include:
    o    a track-and-trace programme, which includes tracing and screening interviews with agency staff;
    o    special communications to staff, allied health workers and doctors to gather information on possible contacts;
    o    interviewing of doctors practising at Netcare Pholoso Hospital as well as other healthcare facilities in the area; and 
    o    sharing lists of agency staff to ensure that healthcare workers, as far as possible, work at a single facility.

One staff member has tested positive following results that were received. A further 11 staff members, as agreed with the LDoH, were placed in self-isolation even though they are all asymptomatic. Ten of these staff members are quarantined at a hotel in Polokwane at the expense of Netcare as they are unable to effectively self-quarantine at home and one will self-isolate at home.

“In terms of patients admitted to our facility and identified as high risk, Persons Under Investigation, (PUIs), we have initiated a rigorous testing and track-and-trace process and out of a total of 37 patients requiring COVID-19 testing, 30 patients have tested negative while one tested positive. The results for the remaining six patients in isolation are awaited. An additional 20 patients were placed in precautionary quarantine to reduce the risk of exposure,” noted Bock.

First fatality in Limpopo 
“Tragically, despite our best efforts and those of the treating doctors, an older person with serious underlying illnesses, which increased the person’s susceptibility to COVID-19, has passed away at the hospital on Wednesday morning,” says Bock.

“The patient was admitted to hospital via the emergency department on 7 April 2020.  Upon admission, the patient was risk assessed and screened for COVID-19 symptoms and exposure as per the Netcare protocol, which is aligned to the NICD guidelines. 

When the temperature of the patient started spiking an hour following the patient’s admission, the treating specialist requested a COVID-19 test as a precautionary measure. At the same time, the patient was placed in isolation as a PUI. The test results of the patient came back as negative, but the patient was kept in isolation and as a precautionary measure, the doctor requested that the patient should be re-tested after seven days. The test results confirming that the patient had COVID-19 infection, were received by the hospital shortly after the patient passed away. 

Bock noted that PUIs and confirmed COVID-19 patients in Netcare hospitals are separately isolated and cared for either in isolation rooms or isolation cubicles, with doctors and nurses wearing appropriate personal protective equipment specific to the risk associated with each case, and following Netcare’s protocols to prevent the spread of the infection to other patients and others working in the hospital. 

“As a healthcare facility that holds the sanctity of life above all else, every death is one too many. At this tragic time, we wish to express our heartfelt condolences to the loved ones of the person who passed away. They are in our thoughts and prayers.”

Challenges of COVID-19
Commenting on the development, Dr Anchen Laubscher, group medical director of Netcare said that two of the greatest challenges associated with COVID-19 are that those infected do not always show or have any of the symptoms, and the fact that the virus is highly infectious, notwithstanding the absence of any symptoms.

“Even in the presence of extensive and effective infection prevention measures, such as those in place within Netcare hospitals, any workplace or gathering of people poses a potential risk for infection. Unfortunately, it has been shown that COVID-19 can be transmitted by carriers before they show symptoms that can be screened for, and where one person is contagious, the virus can very quickly spread to others. 

“For this reason, Netcare took the decision a number of weeks ago of suspending visiting and public entry to its hospitals except in specific exceptional circumstances and closed its in-hospital pharmacies’ retail services to the public as well as its coffee shops. Daily screening of all persons entering our premises is also continuing, and where indicated, testing is then done,” notes Dr Laubscher.

No cost spared to keep patients and healthcare workers safe
According to Dr Laubscher, Netcare is sparing no effort or cost to keep every person in its care, as well as staff and doctors, as safe as possible.

Thank you and acknowledgement
“We wish to acknowledge the LDoH under the stewardship of Dr Phophi Ramathuba, MEC for Health, for their support and leadership during this difficult time. A special word of thanks goes to Dr Ramathuba and her team for their exceptional dedication and efforts in rendering assistance to Netcare Pholoso Hospital during this period.

“Our deep and heartfelt thanks go to all our healthcare workers, nurses and doctors and their families and loved ones for their incredible efforts under these very trying and challenging circumstances. We salute their efforts and remain deeply grateful to them all,” says Bock.


Issued by:            MNA on behalf of Netcare
Contact:    Martina Nicholson, Graeme Swinney, Meggan Saville and Estene Lotriet-Vorster 
Telephone:    (011) 469 3016
Email:    [email protected],     [email protected], [email protected] or [email protected]