Western Cape government staffers sacrifice holiday to strengthen Covid-19 equipment arsenal

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The warehouse repurposed over what would usually be the New Year's holiday period.
The warehouse repurposed over what would usually be the New Year's holiday period.
PHOTO: Supplied by Western Cape government
  • A group of Western Cape government staffers cut short their December rest to order sought-after N95 respirators.
  • They also ordered more PPE and other vital equipment like hospital trolleys to get through the Covid-19 resurgence.
  • Without fanfare, 10 young staffers moved 850 pallets of supplies to a more central warehouse instead of chilling over the New Year period.

A group of Western Cape government staffers cut short their December rest to order sought-after N95 respirators now that the US government has ended its embargo on exports of these vital items.

The US implemented the embargo on exports of N95 respirators to keep enough for its own citizens.

The provincial health department said without any fanfare, 10 young staffers also moved 850 pallets of supplies to a more central warehouse.

"From these stories, not all health heroes work in the frontline or wear uniforms," head of the Western Cape Department of Health, Dr Keith Cloete said.

Cloete said:

There are many heroes throughout our system and the department is very proud of these teams and individuals for their support during this time. Their selfless actions and sacrifices mean this department could continue saving lives over a busy festive period.

Extra nursing staff were also secured through contracts in what the department calls "knocking on doors to save lives".

"Running out of medical supplies or equipment is not an option during a pandemic. It can have dire consequences for patients and health staff. Ever thought of the people who need to make sure this does not happen?" the department said in a tribute to the staffers, who interrupted their breaks and family time after an exhausting and frightening year.

The department said:

While most of us were fortunate enough to get some rest and spend time with family over the festive period, supply chain management (SCM) staff at the department worked tirelessly over the Christmas and New Year period. Their main objective was to ensure our frontline workers are protected and equipped to continue saving lives.

The resurgence in Covid-19 infections came as manufacturers and suppliers closed shop to rest ahead of what is expected to be another difficult period until vaccines arrive in South Africa.

READ | 20 million doses of vaccine are coming, says Ramaphosa – with no details

To get extra hospital trolleys, the department said that days before New Year's Eve – traditionally a time of reflection with friends or family – the teams managed to convince suppliers to call staff back from leave and deliver the trolleys by 2 January.

Opening up additional beds, installing additional bulk oxygen tanks and new wards, meant more nursing, cleaning and security staff was needed. In line with supply chain processes, ad hoc quotation committees and bid adjudication committees were convened at short notice, in hours, to provide necessary governance and oversight of the procurement process for the extra requirements.

Nursing agencies were consulted to help with shortages, and preparing the contracts was done in record time, according to the department.

The department said this can only be done with the "utmost commitment" and good relationships.

The supply chain management team is liaising directly with international manufacturers to ensure continuous supplies of respirators following the lifting of the US trade embargo.

"Through many hours of phone calls, emails and detective work to find suppliers able to deliver within regulations and time constraints, enough stock was always procured to ensure staff never ran out of PPE," the department said.

For better efficiency and inventory control, a group of 10 young people spent the New Year's weekend moving the bulk storage items to a more central facility at Tygerberg Hospital.

Innovative staff

"An amazing team of 10 young people sacrificed their long weekend to ensure the seamless transfer of stock," said warehouse manager Quinton Manuel.

The department and Western Cape Premier Alan Winde will provide their weekly update later on Tuesday.

Staff were also being innovative, such as Stellenbosch Hospital's use of negative air pressure in consultation rooms and using a physical glass barrier between the person conducting the test and the person being tested.

To cut down on the donning and doffing of PPE, a patient sits on one side of the barrier and a healthcare worker on the other.

"The person conducting the test will insert their hands into gloves to conduct the test. The patient will then on their side package the test sample, sanitise their hands and hand it back. This reduces the need for full PPE," Winde explained.

 - Compiled by Jenni Evans

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