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Health

Hospital beds, oxygen run short in Russia's regions as COVID-19 cases surge

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Ekaterina Saraichenko, who lives in Saratov, posted a video on Russian social media this month, describing her mother’s ordeal with COVID-19 as they waited for an ambulance she said was taking too long. It came in the end, but her mother died on the way to hospital.

FILE PHOTO: Paramedics wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) pull a stretcher out of an ambulance while transporting a patient to a hospital amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Omsk, Russia October 28, 2020. REUTERS/Alexey Malgavko

The situation was more extreme in Omsk, Siberia, where two patients in serious condition were held for 10 hours in an ambulance outside a hospital, waiting for beds to become free. Alexander Burkov, the regional governor, said the incident was “beyond human comprehension” and demanded an investigation.

Doctors, patients and officials in several Russian regions have been documenting a healthcare system pushed to its limits as coronavirus cases surge and hospital admission turns into a bleak battleground.

The Kremlin says it recognises that some places are facing crises, but federal resources are being deployed “at lightning speed”.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov this week cited a case in the Kurgan region, where doctors had appealed to President Vladimir Putin for help. Russia’s defence ministry sent its doctors there in response, he said.

Other areas say they haven’t got the help they need.

“Your job is to admit my patient,” an ambulance worker in Kemerovo tells hospital staff in one video sent to Reuters by a member of the ambulance team.

“What are we supposed to do with our patients then?” staff reply. There are just under 4,000 beds for coronavirus patients in the Kemerovo region, according to local health ministry data, and 86% are currently full.

“The patient is on oxygen support,” a medical worker can be heard saying in the background of the video. “By the time you reach a decision...” The voice trails off.

Tatiana Golikova, Russia’s deputy prime minister, said on Wednesday that the situation with hospital admission had become “critical” in 16 Russian regions, with coronavirus hospitals at over 90% capacity.

She also cited over-stretched ambulance services in some regions, advising local governments to deploy vehicles acquired for use by care homes instead.

Waiting time for an ambulance in Kemerovo is around 14-15 hours, local ambulance worker Ekaterina Kasyanova said.

In Magnitogorsk, a major industrial city in the Urals, ambulance worker Vladimir Kolesnikov said that his team was working alone servicing an area with 50,000 residents. Five teams used to cover the area, he said, but only one remained as so many doctors had fallen sick.

He said that hospital admission was now one-in, one-out.

“You turn up with the sick person to the hospital and you sit and wait outside in your ambulance, until a space frees up,” he said. “The hospitals aren’t coping.”

Many regions are working to roll out additional beds, and back-up resources are being sent from Moscow.

But in many of those regions, the contrast with healthcare in the capital has been stark.

Moscow resident Dmitry Slominsky felt unwell during a trip to Siberia this month and was hospitalised in Novosibirsk.

“People are lying in corridors,” he said. “I really want to go back to Moscow.”

Reporting by Anton Zverev, Maria Tsvetkova, Rinat Sagdiev and Polina Nikolskaya; Writing by Polina Ivanova; Editing by Andrew Osborn and Giles Elgood

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