Healthcare services in Co Louth are coming under severe pressure as high Covid-19 infection rates have led to the closure of a Dundalk hospital to admissions and a new nursing home outbreak.
The county's main hospital, Our Lady of Lourdes in Drogheda, has had to treat so many seriously ill patients with the virus that it has had to reconfigure its operations, swapping the Covid and non-Covid emergency departments to create more space for sick Covid patients.
Latest HSE operations figures show the hospital is one of 14 across the State with no spare intensive care unit beds remaining and has accelerated to “surge” capacity to cope with the third wave of infections that has swept across the country since Christmas.
The number of Covid-19 patients being treated at the hospital reached 120 on Wednesday, with one staff member saying the pressure on the hospital was greater than on Dublin hospitals.
The staff member contacted The Irish Times to express concern about the risk of the hospital being overwhelmed by Covid-19 cases more quickly than other hospitals as it was dealing with a catchment area covering Louth, Cavan, Meath, Monaghan and north Dublin with limited capacity.
“Drogheda might have the same number of Covid cases as Beaumont in Dublin, but Drogheda has about half the bed capacity of Beaumont,” said the concerned staff member.
There are now more wards in the hospital with Covid cases than without, the person said.
“It is like a war zone. There have been nurses on the verge of just walking out,” said the staff member.
HSE figures show the Drogheda hospital had 111 confirmed Covid-19 patients, the fifth-highest of any hospital in the country, and 13 suspected cases on Tuesday night. There were nine patients in the hospital's ICU, the same number as being treated in Tallaght and St Vincent's in Dublin.
RCSI Group, which manages the Drogheda hospital, said that the capacity of the separate Covid and non-Covid "pathways" through the emergency department varies depending on "the escalation plan".
“We have recently reconfigured the departments in order to allow for the ongoing and significant increased demand on the hospitals related to Covid-19,” the group said.
Louth County Hospital, a non-acute hospital in Dundalk that is managed by RCSI Group, is experiencing an outbreak, and “all services are currently closed to admissions”, though the minor injury unit remains open. There have been more than 30 Covid-19 cases at the hospital.
National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) figures published on Wednesday show that Louth had the State’s second-highest incidence rate of the disease over the past 14 days, with 2,323 cases per 100,000 people, behind Monaghan with 2,738 cases per 100,000.
High infection rates have been blamed for the virus infecting another Co Louth nursing home.
Blackrock Abbey Nursing Home near Dundalk is managing a Covid-19 outbreak, with 12 suspected cases among residents and a number of staff testing positive for the disease.
The nursing home informed families of residents about the outbreak in recent days after two of the care facility’s more than 70 staff tested positive last week. One resident with Covid-19 has died.
The privately owned nursing home has been carrying its own rapid Covid-19 testing or “antigen” testing to protect against the disease, and detected the positive cases on January 5th.
Further testing since then has revealed up to 12 residents recording a positive result, leading to mass testing of all 62 residents. The scheduled vaccination of residents and staff at the nursing home has been brought forward by a day to January 19th.
Across the country, the number of nursing home outbreaks more than doubled in the week to January 9th, with a near five-fold increase in cases linked to new outbreaks.
There were 52 new outbreaks reported in the week, an increase from 22 the previous week. There were 311 Covid-19 cases linked to those new outbreaks, compared with 65 new cases a week earlier.