Femi Makinde and Samson Folarin
Some private hospitals, which shut down operations after some of their staff members became exposed to coronavirus patients, have given details of how carriers of the deadly virus came to their facilities.
Findings by SUNDAY PUNCH revealed that the affected hospitals had suspended operations to decontaminate their facilities and adhere to other guidelines stipulated by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control for exposed hospitals.
However, there have been unconfirmed reports that the facilities were shut by the NCDC and the Lagos State Government.
The Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, and the Lagos State government had threatened that any private hospital caught secretly treating COVID-19 patients would be shut down.
But officials of some of the private hospitals who spoke with one of our correspondents narrated how they treated patients they did not know were carriers of the virus.
Some of the officials said hospitals were in a dilemma because some health conditions such as malaria fever had symptoms similar to COVID-19, pointing out that the situation would become worse if every patient who came to seek treatment for other ailments had to be forced to go for COVID-19 testing before being attended to.
SUNDAY PUNCH spoke with the top officials of the highbrow Lagos hospitals, including Edward Specialist Hospital, St Nicholas Hospital, Premier Specialists Hospital and Reddington Hospital, Lekki
The Medical Director of St Edward Specialist Hospital, at Ajah, Lagos, Dr Emeka Okocha, said the hospital did not know it was dealing with a carrier of the deadly virus because the patient lied about his medical history.
Okocha, who is a consultant cardiologist, said, “We didn’t treat any COVID-19 patient. A hypertensive diabetic came in with the symptoms. The patient came to see me based on the diabetics symptoms because I am a cardiologist.
“He had complications of hypertension and diabetes and based on these, I decided to admit him. That was on Saturday evening, the following day, which was Easter Sunday, officials of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control came to the hospital. I didn’t invite them; they came and said the man was a known contact of a person with COVID-19.”
Okocha expressed sadness that the patient lied to him and did not disclose that he had had contact with a COVID-19 victim, saying if the patient had disclosed this, he would have referred him to the designated centres for treating coronavirus patients.
The medical director said, “I asked the patient initially and he said he was not a known contact. That was what gave me the go-ahead to admit him. I believed what he had was just the complications of hypertension and diabetes, which had the same symptoms as COVID.
“He had heart failure, cough and breathlessness. You cannot differentiate, so I asked him, ‘Have you had contact with anyone with COVID-19?’ He said no. ‘Did you travel outside the country recently?’ He said no. He said he came to see a cardiologist because of diabetes and hypertension complications.
“The NCDC came the following day and took samples. That was the first time we realised that we might be dealing with COVID-19. At that time, we could not just send the patient away because it was not confirmed. We had to keep him there until the result came out. Unfortunately, the result did not come out until around 4pm the following Tuesday. The result came back positive.”
Because of the development, Okocha said some of the nurses at the hospital panicked, even though they had personal protective equipment, and posted the news on social media.
He said, “On Wednesday, the NCDC came and took the patient and that was all. But there has been noise that there is COVID-19 at St Edward. We had to close down and decontaminate immediately. We have not reopened till now (Thursday).
“Neither the NCDC nor the Lagos State Government asked us to shut down, but we closed down on our own to decontaminate. The patient lied to us and even I was exposed. We went on two weeks quarantine.
“My mind was not at rest, and after nine days in quarantine, I went and did a test and the result came back negative. After that, all the feelings I was having disappeared. Everything just went away and I am just waiting for my members of staff to come back to work.
“What we are telling the government now is that patients like that will always come. So in this situation, what are we supposed to do? COVID-19 comes with fever, so does that mean anybody who has fever will be asked to go and do COVID-19 test before we treat them? That won’t work.
“Even in the estate where our hospital is located, the residents have been abusing us that we are treating COVID-19 cases. They said I brought a COVID-19 patient into their estate and we should move out of the estate. These people are supposed to be our neighbours but you can see what we are facing. They said we are bringing COVID-19 patients to the estate and treating them here.
“The problem we have is more of the stigma than anything else. We made a diagnosis and they have stigmatised us. We need to educate our people more about this virus and the issue of stigmatisation. Doctors have to work and if everybody who comes to hospitals is asked to go and do COVID-19 test before being attended to, then we are in for a big problem.”
The Medical Director at St Nicholas Hospital, Lagos, Dr Edun Bamgboye, told Sunday PUNCH the hospital did not admit any patient with coronavirus but explained that an outpatient of the company came to the facility and was later diagnosed with COVID-19.
Bamgboye said the patient was subsequently referred to the Infectious Disease Hospital, Yaba for treatment when he was suspected to have the dreaded virus.
He stressed that the patient was not admitted to St Nicholas Hospital.
Bamgboye said, “Contrary to the fake news in circulation, we didn’t treat any patient with COVID-19. A patient came to our hospital as an outpatient. He was diagnosed as potentially having COVID-19 and was referred to the Infectious Disease Hospital, Yaba. He was not treated here; he was not admitted to our hospital.
“We did not admit or treat anybody that is confirmed to have COVID-19. We carry out kidney transplant in this hospital and kidney transplant patients are placed on immunosuppressive medication, so as a matter of policy, there is no way we will go and treat them with patients with COVID-19. We will not admit any patient who we know has a confirmed case of COVID-19. “
Asked whether the hospital had been shut down due to the issue, the medical director said, “We were advised to decontaminate the hospital, which we have done. We were also advised to screen everybody and we have also done that. We have screened all those who got exposed to the outpatient. Definitely, everybody has been screened and we will not allow anybody who is positive for the coronavirus to continue to work for now.
He explained, “We tested the whole hospital but I cannot divulge the number of people who tested positive because I don’t know you and I can’t give you that figure on the telephone. We have reopened but the only thing is that we are going to undergo Infection Prevention and Control Training. We will continue to attend to our patients on admission but we won’t take on new cases until we complete the training.
“I must emphasise that the story going round that we admitted and treated COVID-19 patients is completely untrue. We could not have admitted patients with coronavirus.”
Although our correspondent could not speak with the Chief Medical Director of Premier Specialists Hospital, one of the doctors at the hospital, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said a member of staff of the hospital brought the virus there.
He said, “One of our members of staff came and complained that he was feeling weak and was having internal heat. That is not any of the symptoms of COVID-19 and his temperature was normal. He has never travelled out of the country in his life. He came on a Monday and by Friday he was admitted. We placed him on isolation and started calling the NCDC and Lagos State hotlines but there was no response.
“When officials of the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research came to test him on Wednesday, they told us that the result would be ready within 48 hours. By this time some other people said they were not feeling well and four of them were tested altogether.
“At the end of that 48 hours, two were negative and they said they had to get back to us. They later said the result was inconclusive and they had to come back and do another one. By that time, the guy had spent about a week in our hospital and they said the result was inconclusive.
“At this point, we had to take him to Yaba and use every connection we had to get him admitted there without his result. When they admitted him, the test result came out and the NCDC came and asked about everybody who had contact with him and the other lady who also tested positive.
“Based on the advice of the NCDC, we quarantined the patient’s contacts in our hospital and locked down our hospital. The quarantine is over and we have decontaminated the hospital. The government did not close us down.”
Meanwhile, the doctor said the hospital worker who initially tested positive for the coronavirus had been discharged after testing negative for the virus twice.
Also, the Consultant Physician and Medical Director of Reddington Hospital Lekki, Lagos, Dr Misbah Oleolo, debunked the news that the hospital admitted and treated COVID-19 patients.
He declined to make further comment, asking one of our correspondents to go and read a statement the hospital had issued on the matter.
How COVID-19 patient died in Surulere General Hospital
Meanwhile, in a related development, workers at the Randle General Hospital, Surulere, Lagos State, are in panic after a COVID-19 patient brought to the hospital died of the infection.
Sunday PUNCH learnt that the victim, a 65-year-old woman, had presented to the hospital on Sunday with difficulty in breathing.
She was said to have been treated before some doctors asked that she be taken to the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, Idi Araba, which is also within the neighbourhood.
However, the federal hospital was said to have rejected her, as she was returned to Randle.
She was said to have died at the general hospital shortly after her return.
A source told our correspondent that she was tested for the virus on Monday after officials of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control were invited to the hospital.
However, apprehensive medical workers were not informed of the result until Friday, as tension mounted.
He said, “The woman was a petty trader. She sold drugs to people and had a fever, which I believed she tried to treat on her own.
“But when she could no longer manage it, she came to the hospital on Sunday morning and was admitted. Her main complaint was difficulty in breathing, so she was taken as a case of heart failure.
“The woman also had diabetes. The patient was seen by two doctors, who checked her medical history. The woman was not breathing well. Those doctors then handed her over to another set of doctors, who took over the shift from them.
“The new set of doctors thought that it could be a COVID-19 case and alerted the managing director and the NCDC was invited to take her samples on Monday.”
Another source said shortly after the samples were taken, the patient was taken to LUTH by noon. However, she was rejected.
“The LUTH doctors told our people who took her there that the patient did not meet up with the COVID-19 criteria. She was then brought back to the general hospital.
“The doctors and nurses did their best, but after about one hour, she died,” the source said.
Sunday PUNCH learnt that the death sparked panic among members of staff, who were apprehensive of the result of the test earlier conducted by the NCDC.
A worker at the hospital accused the Managing Director, Dr Aduke Odutayo, of keeping the result secret until some doctors threatened to take the matter up.
“That was when she told us, and she said only two people will go on isolation since others don’t have symptoms.
“The anger is that many doctors and nurses have come in contact with the woman. They had changed shifts, met with other patients, went home and met their family members.
“The MD is not willing to shut down the hospital. She has also refused to allow all her staff to go for tests, especially those who had contact with the patient. She only fumigated the isolation centre, the emergency room and the ambulance that took the woman to LUTH,” the source added.
Our correspondent observed that the isolation centre of the hospital was unkempt, with poor ventilation.
A source said officials of the NCDC had asked the management of the hospital to refurbish the area, saying it was not good for human habitation.
“A lot of people may be in danger; the entire Surulere area may not be safe. The deceased was hypertensive. She had had a fever before that time. You can’t imagine the number of people she might have come in contact with. They call her Iyabo,” the source said.
Another worker said she had decided to stop going to work until the management gave an official response on the case.
The worker told Sunday PUNCH that the hospital had kept silent about the case.
The MD of the hospital, Odutayo, confirmed the incident, adding that the NCDC had been contacted.
She said, “True, NCDC is on top of it. They are coming in to check everybody who might have had contact with the case you may be referring to.
“We have also told all staff members who are agitated enough and don’t want to wait for the NCDC that they should go to the mainland that there is a fast-tracking and you have the right to be tested immediately.”