KHMU Newsletter No. 7 Released on April 9, 2020
KHMU Urge Ad Hoc Social Dialogue to Get Over COVID-19.
The KHMU(Korean Health and Medical Workers’ Union) held a press conference at the Blue House fountain to propose a Tripartite Social Dialogue to Get Over COVID-19. Before the media, the industry-level health workers union strongly demanded for reconstruction of infectious disease control system, strengthening of public health services, introduction of accident and sickness benefits so as to build up a medical safety net and protect medical staff. In addition, the Union requested to constitute an ad hoc Social Dialogue Body consisting of health and medical workers, hospital employers, government and experts.
The President Na Soon-ja at the KHMU said, “The quarantine system was exemplary but it remains short on treatment and care side.” “That is, there has been no infection-specialized hospitals that would serve as a control tower; and public medical facilities with sufficient essential supplies and manpower have not been available and ready,” added Na. She also pointed out, “One of the main culprits behind the spread of COVID-19 is that people have to keep working even when sick. Therefore, it is pressing to adopt the accident and sickness benefit system.”
Ahn Soo-kyung, the KHMU branch head at the National Medical Center demanded: ▲ establish infection-specialized hospitals at the national and regional level ▲ make manuals and trainings available in relation to testing sites, designated public relief hospitals, etc. ▲ secure a sufficient number of personal protective equipment including masks and anti-contamination clothing.
There was also a mentioning of necessity to provide supports to private hospitals so that they can join in the effort to respond to infectious diseases. Noh Jae-ock, the KHMU branch head at Korea University Medicine insisted that 10% of beds in private university hospitals should be designated for infection treatment especially for those with severe symptoms and financially supported by the government.
Kim Young-whan, a nurse, shared his experiences of emergency medical service in Daegoo, the most affected city in Korea. “With anti-contamination clothing, it takes double longer to work than without. Considering that, less patients should be allocated to each nurse, but in reality, one nurse had to take care of 10 to 20 confirmed patients on site. In addition, nurses had to work on extra jobs like cleaning, food supply and distribution, etc. At the same time, even very entry-level nurses who just graduated from school are working in ICU (Intensive Care Unit). The medical staff across ICUs suffer over-workload, which may put patients and medical staff to danger,” said Kim. Criticizing the poor conditions in short supplies and quarantine system, he added, “Ventilators and other essential equipment were short and came only later, endangering patients. In a very narrow space, medical staff had to take off and put on PPE(personal protective equipment) and contaminated and non-contaminated areas are crossed or confused, heightening the chance of medical staff being infected.”
Designated COVID-19 hospitals also suffer. Kim Jung-eun, the KHMU branch head at Seonam Hospital in Seoul said, “Confirmed patients are treated in isolation for about two weeks, having been stressed out for feeling isolated and helpless. Some patients send unrealistic requests and verbally/physically abuse medical staff although staff has been trying to pay meticulous attention to them. And this has aggravated fatigue and stress of the workers.” She also emphasized that as both patients and medical staff are getting more stresses and more severely tired over time, the government should take such actions as providing psychotherapy to patients and leaves for emotion to medical staff as part of the emotional/psychological quarantine measures.
Through the press releases at the conference, the health workers, concerned about the possible prolonged COVID-19 situations, demanded a long-term plan:▲ establish infection-specialized hospitals and build up infection treatment system ▲ secure a wide range of public services with advanced infrastructure ▲beef up a medical safety net by introducing the accident and sickness benefit ▲ take actions to protect medical staff and secure a sufficient level of staffing ▲ ad hoc Social Dialogue to get over medical disaster and build up a quarantine system and medical safety net.
Following the press conference, participants in protective clothing and gown came up on the show for performance.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health and Welfare informed 9, April that the cumulative confirmed cases were 10,423 in total while 6,974 were released from isolation so far.
The new confirmed cases per day were 39 and those released increased by 197, signaling that patients in isolation were decreasing. The total death was 204.
Besides, up to April 3, the number of medical staff testing positive was 241, which took 2.4% of the total confirmed cases. Some were infected during daily activities while others in hospitals. According to the government’s announcement, out of the 241 medical staff, 66 were infected when they treated non-COVID 19 cases (27.3%). Among them, nurse takes the largest portion (57), followed by doctors (6) and others (3).
Two nurses were infected while treating confirmed patients. Up until now, one doctor died of the novel coronavirus. The doctor aged 60 who ran an internal medicine clinic was infected by a confirmed patient who visited his clinic on Feb 26. Not being aware that the patient was COVID-19 confirmed, he treated him and passed away while getting treatment in hospital.
COVID-19 Situation of South Korea, on 11 April.