Covid-19: Private hospitals close doors after staff test positive

Closing hospitals is “last resort”

Photo of St Augustine\'s Hospital

Netcare’s St Augustine’s Hospital in Durban has been closed since early April. Photo from Google Street View

By Elna Schütz

4 May 2020

Some private hospitals have temporarily closed after staff tested positive for Covid-19. This is a drastic protective measure and is likely to continue being taken as the pandemic progresses.

For example, Netcare’s St. Augustine’s hospital has been closed since early April, with Netcare Kingsway doing the same in mid-April. Netcare Ceres was also closed for a week.

Mediclinic Morningside in Johannesburg was closed for several weeks for new admissions. Life Healthcare has not indicated any closures related to Covid-19 cases. Some other private hospitals within the groups, such as Netcare Parklands, have closed emergency departments temporarily.

Dr Anchen Laubscher, group medical director of Netcare, says they are keeping the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) and the Department of Health in the loop but cannot disclose the number of infected staff members.

Mediclinic Chief Clinical Officer Dr Stefan Smuts says that “a small portion of staff members have tested positive for Covid-19”. According to various media reports, at least 79 staff members, including healthcare workers, allied health professionals, and support staff, have tested positive at Mediclinic Morningside.

Dr Charl van Loggerenberg, General Manager of Emergency Medicine at Life Healthcare, says that “of our more than 10,000 frontline employees and participating doctors, there have been fewer than a dozen positive cases”. While the group has temporarily closed seven surgical facilities, and 17 pharmacies, this is to cancel elective surgeries and focus on the most critical services, as other hospital groups have done.

The closures are primarily to allow for sanitation, testing and isolation of staff, and to get clearance from the Department of Labour to reopen. Smuts says, “This allows Mediclinic to conduct a detailed period of assessment and deep sanitation in accordance with the necessary protocols.”

In the case of Netcare Ceres, Craig Murphy, a regional director, explains that “deep cleaning, fogging as well as decontamination of the entire hospital with the use of a ultraviolet (UV) light robot has been completed”.

Laubscher says that “staff members who are deemed a risk and are required to self-isolate as a precaution as well as those who have tested positive for Covid-19, are being paid in full during their absence from work”.

The movement of healthcare workers between different facilities is of particular concern, and Netcare is reducing agency nursing staff who may work at several places.

Laubscher says, “The decision as to whether or not to close a hospital would be very dependent on the prevailing circumstances and would only be taken as a last resort based on concerns about staff and patient safety and after consultation with the relevant authorities.”

Van Loggerenberg describes various safety measures, including providing masks for all who enter the hospital and flu vaccinations for staff members to reduce general employee sick leave. He says that as a result of this, “we do not anticipate having to close any hospitals due to Covid-19”.