Workers of Clínica Ricardo Palma in Peru, part of the German multinational Fresenius, are going through a major crisis due to the health emergency and a lack of safety protocols, but also due to the clinic’s mishandling of the situation. The workers have been exposed to the risk of coronavirus infections because of poor infrastructure, insufficient staffing, direct contact with bodily fluids due to lack of proper equipment, and having to wear disposable diapers so the clinic does not incur “more expenses” when using disposable protective gear.
One of the clinic’s workers said, “Biosecurity measures have not been implemented at Clínica Ricardo Palma. When the first patient was admitted to the Covid ward he was intubated, but the team of workers was not wearing eye protection…and was in direct contact with the patient”.
The second time, she said, the head of the unit and the head nurse decided to move the 5 patients who were intubated with mechanical ventilation to another unit, from the first floor to the third floor: “You need a special stretcher to move these patients, where the patient is fully covered. It cannot be done with a simple stretcher, with a portable ventilator. We alerted them about this but were ignored. They told us to keep quiet and do our job”. Thus, these patients were in the pediatric emergency room where patients with suspected COVID-19 are placed, then put in the elevator, and passed through the pharmacy where there are people who are not infected.
“We feel no support. It is not only about caring for patients; we need to deliver quality care in adequate working conditions. The staff, who later tested positive for coronavirus, had told their boss that they were feeling ill and were sent to (a public hospital), where there are even more infected people, when they should have been tested right there and then. That’s how they treat us. They expose us, we have no support.”
The clinic also suggested the use of diapers for the workers who are in the Covid unit, to save on costs, since every time they leave the unit the protective gear has to be discarded. The workers were told: “have an early dinner and don’t drink too much water; you can wear a diaper if you wish”. One of the workers developed a urinary tract infection after wearing diapers. However, thanks to the involvement of the union, Sindicato de Empleados de la Administradora Clínica Ricardo Palma, the issue was resolved, and workers are now given two sets of protective gowns instead of one.
The workers feel that although the full scope of the crisis is not yet visible, it seems that the clinic is waiting for someone to die to take some action: “We do not refuse to work, we just want to be sure about the conditions. We do not want this to spread, we do not want other people to be infected, and for that we need to do things properly. The clinic has to limit the number of patients, how are they going to buy portable ventilators now? That should have been done that before. There are power failures in some areas that should have been fixed sooner. We are calling for urgent measures,” she concluded.
This is not a unique situation of Fresenius’ private hospitals. A report by the Escuela Nacional Sindical in Colombia revealed appalling conditions where security protocols against the pandemic are not being implemented, nor are personal protective equipment being used, as you can see here.
An earlier version of this article stated that workers are receiving n95 masks every two weeks. They are now receiving them every week.