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Rapid response field hospitals needed as provinces play catch-up

South Africa is experiencing a hospital crisis with state and private hospitals reaching capacity, driving an urgent need for more triage centres and field hospitals as Covid-19 infections surge. The Western Cape has shown that rapid response infrastructure is the most viable solution to help meet the escalating need, says Mandy Mulder of temporary infrastructure specialists Chattels.

Chattels has partnered with experienced construction solutions company Profica to deliver vital emergency healthcare facilities across South Africa. Rapid deployment of these facilities has already taken place in the Western Cape to serve increased demands for triage and testing, however, the companies are still awaiting instruction on deployment in the other provinces.

“Massive 500-bed new permanent hospitals will simply not be ready in time for the peak of infections,” says Mulder. “The only way forward is to supply semi-permanent triage centres linked to existing hospitals. What will work is rapid response infrastructure that is flexible in design and quick to build. Profica are expert medical sector project managers that have delivered large scale hospitals, with medical engineers involved. Together, we’re able to provide world class temporary, semi-permanent or permanent facilities in short timeframes.”

Mulder says that while Chattels and Profica have tendered on constructing field hospitals in other provinces, mostly in the Eastern Cape and Gauteng, contracts have not yet been awarded. “We were one of the first suppliers to the Department of Health in the Western Cape and we have submitted tenders in the other provinces who are behind on their roll-out. We have gained the necessary experience and the designs are ready, the groundwork is done. We’re losing time and already, the other provinces are too late to do anything on the scale that the Western Cape has, despite weeks of lockdown. We need to move fast and ensure a quality set-up.”

Jaco Nel of Profica says, “Dramatic healthcare capacity expansion is needed, and the pressure is on to find ways to expand and upgrade both temporary and permanent infrastructure in time. We’re ready to give our medical staff at the front lines the best possible environment as they fight the battle against the pandemic.”

In the Western Cape, Chattels constructed new temporary COVID-19 triage centres and potential field hospitals at Tygerberg Hospital, Victoria Hospital and Paarl Hospital, Ceres, Atlantis, Helderberg, Khayelitsha and Kraaifontein. The temporary triage units consist of high-quality, weather-proof marquee-type structures, complete with floors, ventilation, extraction units, all plumbing, ablution facilities lighting and access control. These units serve as an extension of the hospital where potential COVID-19 patients can be screened and tested. There are also beds and oxygen available in cubicles for immediate treatment for more acute cases.

Mulder is clear that when you’re dealing with Covid-19, you can’t just put up a normal marquee. Structural integrity is signed off monthly and there is stringent weekly maintenance required. “We’ve learnt so much, for example that the right ventilation is critical. Airflow systems have been specially designed with expert mechanical engineers to ensure that the required air volumes, relative pressures, filtration standards and airflow direction works according to the clinical purpose of the room. The sampling booths in the tent have special systems for rapid air changing to ensure infected patients don’t spread the virus.”

Chattels is now also producing custom-built containerised units which are directly purchased rather than rented, including secure structured toilets with hot water basins, already deployed in Delft, Elsie’s River, Khayelitsha site B and Durbanville. “These are more cost-effective and can also be relocated with container trucks as needs shift. Some are a screening facility only, some are also doing the sampling and testing on site if there isn’t already capacity inside the hospital,” says Mulder. “The internal fit-out is as per hospital specifications. Some also house incredible state of the art macerator units which decontaminate medical waste before it goes to landfill.”

Mulder says that being an essential services provider has given the company, formerly focused on events, a sense of purpose in these unpredictable times. “We are grateful to be a part of the frontline workers and able to make even a small difference where it counts,” says Mulder. “We have been humbled by the commitment and action of the Western Cape government, and look forward to working with government in the other provinces to continue the fight against the pandemic.”

“Profica and Chattels are ready to deliver with the combined in-house expertise and experience necessary to make these much-needed medical facilities a reality in a short time,” says Nel. “We are able to deliver, expand and upgrade both temporary and permanent infrastructure and we are committed to using our specialist knowledge in the healthcare sector to add value. As the numbers surge, lives must be saved with the right medical support and we cannot afford to delay.”

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