Trusted local doctors who had also served as former Ministers of Health have repeatedly warned that Palau’s national healthcare system could easily get overwhelmed if a Covid-19 virus gets into the community. The same warnings were sounded when the first positive cases were identified in the first week of January and at the last leadership meeting held last week.
As cases went from 3 to 300 a day in less than 3 weeks, cracks began to show in the frontlines with whispers of exhaustion and stress from the health workers. Those whispers have turned to full blast in a recent social media post of one of the frontliners who detailed an emotionally wrought description of their daily stresses and gave everyone a good picture of what is going at the frontlines with healthcare workers.
“Have you ever worked 12-16 hours because there is no one to replace you? Have you ever gone home after work and slept outside because you worry for your family (possibly catching the virus from you)? Have you ever worked all day in the sun and the rain while wearing PPE? We are tired! We just want to rest!” expressed Darnelle Worswick, Director of Bureau of Health Administration and Support Services (BHASS) of the Ministry of Health on her personal Facebook page.
Other health care workers went online to thank her for voicing out exactly what they have wanted to say.
“I just want to resign”, exclaimed a frustrated health worker. “Too many bosses and they keep meeting but we are still confused and some of the health workers are positive and its spreading like fire” of the situation at the hospital.
Another health worker was at the vaccination center all day and went home for a couple of hours of rest before going back on duty at hospital for the rest of the night. Another worker got administered IV fluids due to exhaustion while at work and after receiving the IV went back to work.
In response to the concerns of the healthcare being overwhelmed, Minister of Health Gaafar Uherbelau reported that National Emergency Committee (NEC) had been convened to bring in assistance from other ministries to relieve MOH staff where they can and help reduce their workload. Palau Community College has helped MHHS with the logistics for the community testing at PCC. Other ministries are said to be sending staff to assist.
Palau is also supported by doctors from CDC, ASPR, and the Republic of China-Taiwan.
With over 100 cases a day for most of the last two weeks, the testing of suspected cases, testing of outgoing passengers and incoming travelers, the open hotlines, and vaccinations, even with outside help, health workers are still stretched too thin.
Despite such stress and frustrations, the health workers interviewed are afraid to lose their jobs, especially during this pandemic, and don’t want to be identified for complaining.
Senator Dr. Stevenson Kuartei voiced his concerns at a Joint Leadership meeting regarding the focus on COVId which has displaced attention from other critical medical services needed. No one has died from COVId he said but there are a lot of people dying from other causes and they are not being treated due to the focused attention on COVID.
With only 10 hospitalized as of yesterday out of 1,190 active cases, the hospital facilities are not overwhelmed but the limited number of health care workers covering so many different services feel that they are already overextended and overwhelmed.