Tue, May 27, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Hospitals reopen emergency rooms

By Melody Chen  /  STAFF REPORTER

Health-care workers attend to a patient at National Taiwan University Hospital's emergency ward, which reopened yesterday after a two-week closure.

PHOTO: SEAN CHAO, TAIPEI TIMES

As the government maps out sounder measures to curb the spread of SARS, two of the most prestigious hospitals in Taiwan have either cautiously resumed or planned to reopen their emergency services yesterday.

The Cabinet's SARS prevention committee announced yesterday it was launching a nationwide temperature check of the public for June 1 to June 10.

The committee will distribute thermometers to village chiefs and borough wardens for them to check the temperatures of their residents.

The government encourages the public to have their temperature checked twice a day, but the measure is not compulsory.

As of yesterday, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) reported 582 probable SARS cases, 12 higher than the previous day's record. The number of deaths remained at 72.

National Taiwan University Hospital, which closed its emergency room on May 12 because of a SARS outbreak among its health workers, announced resumption of its emergency service yesterday.

The hospital held a press conference, which was attended by Chen Ming-fong (陳明豐), the hospital's vice superintendent, and Chang Shang-chwen (張上淳), chief of the hospital's infectious disease department, to illustrate alterations it has made during the closure of its emergency service.

Before the press conference, Lee Ming-liang (李明亮), co-chairman of the Cabinet's SARS prevention committee, and Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) both visited the hospital and expressed gratitude for the hospital's contribution to the battle against SARS.

"Since the first SARS case came to our emergency room on March 14, we did not have time to adjust the facilities in the emergency room to cope with the fever patients efficiently," Chang said.

"We could only separate a block from the emergency room's limited space to isolate fever patients. The block could tolerably accommodate fever patients until the SARS outbreak in Taipei Municipal Hoping Hospital," Chang said.

After Hoping Hospital's outbreak in late April, the National Taiwan University Hospital emergency room was overcrowded with fever patients. "It was beyond the capacity of our emergency room to handle so many patients," Chang said.

As there was not enough space to contain fever patients in the emergency room, the hospital could only arrange for the patients to be treated at other medical units.

Some of the fever patients began developing SARS symptoms a few days later, putting other patients and health workers in their units in danger.

By the time the hospital announced the closure of its emergency room on May 26, two to three health workers in the emergency room already had a fever.

"Among the probable SARS cases reported from our hospital, 10 of them were related to the emergency room. All of them had fever and nine of them have since developed pneumonia," Chang said.

One of them still needs intubation but the rest are in stable condition, Chang said.

In order to prevent the emergency room from becoming overcrowded again, Chen said the hospital will control the number of fever patients it receives.

"If the number exceeds the capacity of the emergency room, we'll stop admitting patients and refer them to other hospitals," Chen said.

After the emergency room's closure, the hospital got samples from the ward to find out if viral contamination had taken place.

Mildly active responses to the viral tests occurred in several locations such as rails of the beds where SARS patients slept and areas where SARS patients were temporarily located, Chang said.

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