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Intensive care unit On the frontline at a Swiss hospital battling Covid-19

Health workers at the University Hospital of canton Fribourg are doing their best amidst a general shortage of personnel, equipment and secure zones. 

Fribourg is a rural canton close to the Swiss capital Bern with over 300,000 residents. Around 15% of the population is over 65 and therefore at high risk if infected with coronavirus. The cantonal hospital is currently scrambling to boost capacity to deal with a potential spike in new Covid-19 patients. The mission is to increase the number of beds and bump up the number of intensive care units to four. The hospital wards also have to be adapted to minimise the risk of infection. 

“These are unsuitable for the current situation: they do not provide a sufficient level of isolation to protect the staff,” says chief physician Govind Sridharan on the hospital’s blog.  

In addition to preparing secure zones, the hospital also has to source equipment, including ventilators. Another priority is training hospital staff on how to use the equipment, “because a ventilator is of little use without the skills required to operate it”, says clinical nurse Gilles Jegou. 

To help train staff, the hospital has created explanatory videos on a variety of subjects. These include tutorials on wearing and removing protective equipment to avoid contamination, as well as on risky procedures like intubation where a breathing tube has to be inserted into the patient’s airway.  

The hospital staff have also had time to learn from the experiences in Italy, as well as other parts of Switzerland. The doctors regularly check in with other hospitals to exchange experiences.  

“Sometimes experts from other units give us their recommendations, so that we avoid making the same mistakes. It is very enriching,” says Jegou.  

As far as the general population is concerned, Sridharan is clear about what needs to be done.  

“Our care comes in when it's already too late, when the disease has already taken hold. Everyone can help prevent the disease: staying at home is a life-saving gesture!” he says. 

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