Mexican hospitals seek to silence criticism with video calls to patients

Mexico City, May 12 (efe-epa).- Mexico City hospitals have established a video call system for people to talk with coronavirus patients in order to calm uncertainty and alleviate concerns over a lack of communication.

“Hello son, how are you?” asked María Elena Vilchis on a call, barely able to make out the face of her son, a 22-year-old man who is recovering from COVID-19.

Mexico has so far recorded 3,573 deaths and 36,327 confirmed cases.

The woman, with a lump in her throat and visibly excited, tried to listen to what her son was saying and look at him on the screen.

“It is the first time that I speak to him. Right now I saw him and I am very excited. I was very desperate,” said María Elena, who said that it had been almost 14 days since she had last seen her son.

It is those who have suffered the pain of having a family member admitted to hospital with the novel coronavirus who know it is very likely that they will not be able to see their loved one again until they recover, if they do.

“The relatives of the patients are not used to (not seeing them), which sometimes generates anxiety – not being able to communicate with hospitalized relatives, not being able to see them,” said Alan Aizpuru, in charge of family assistance facilities that have been set up at hospitals. Earlier this month, at least 20 people broke into the Las Americas general hospital in Ecatepec, in the state of Mexico, to confront medical personnel over the lack of information on the health of their relatives admitted for COVID-19.

The people entered aggressively and confronted the health personnel, resulting in five injured – an emergency medical specialist, an employee and three members of security.

This was not an isolated case. The scenario has been seen in various hospitals in the Mexican capital, such as in the general hospitals of Mexico and Iztapalapa, where family members gathered at the doorsteps to request reports. There are even those who claim not to know if the patients are still alive.

Due to this, Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum announced the installation outside hospitals of 24-hour information tents for relatives.

In addition, video calls are facilitated between families and COVID-19 patients, who are isolated and cannot receive visitors.

Authorities continue to work to increase hospital capacity in the Valley of Mexico, the area most affected by coronavirus in the country, with 9,983 cases and 73 percent of beds occupied.

According to government data, 66 percent of general hospital beds and 73 percent of beds with ventilators are still available in Mexico.

Aizpuru said that the facilities installed in the 11 Ministry of Health-designated COVID-19 hospitals, seek to provide certainty and “generate a channel of communication between family members, doctors and patients.”

With this, he said, patients with COVID-19 will be connected with their families whenever possible, with specific rules for the hospital and established schedules.

To do this, they activated 200 mobile phones with 40 gigawatt of free data per month, donated by Huawei.

He said that the first 31 video calls had already been made, but stressed it should not become a reason for people to crowd outside the hospitals.

“It is very important to clarify that video calls are undoubtedly subject to availability and medical viability, as well as the availability and infrastructure of each hospital,” Aizpuru said.

However, he said it is a challenge, since in most hospitals there are few staff to facilitate video calls, in addition to “giving priority to the medical care of patients and the organization of hospital infrastructure.”

Mexico had its most critical stage of infection in the first week of May, and on Wednesday President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is expected to present a plan for a “new normal” once the social distancing stage enacted to contain the COVID-19 epidemic has ended.

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