The bridge between the medical staff and Daegu City… preparing to publish a white paper
· ①[COVID-19 Interview Series] Jeong Ho Yeong, CEO of Kyungpook National University Hospital
· ②[COVID-19 Interview Series] Min Pokkee, director of the COVID-19 Countermeasures Division, Daegu Medical Association
· ③[COVID-19 Interview Series] Cha Soon Do, Chairman of Medi-City Daegu Association
Daegu City, which went through the hardest chapter in the country due to COVID-19 mass infection from the Shincheonji Church, is now experiencing only a small number of confirmed cases as medical staff and citizens are united for a breakthrough of the disease. The biggest heroes in this crisis were the medical staff in Daegu. As a small appreciation of their hard work, we interviewed them in a series. We met Jeong Ho Yeong, CEO of Kyungpook National University Hospital, Min Pokkee, the director of Daegu Medical Association's COVID-19 Countermeasures Division, and Cha Soon Do, the chairman of Medi-City Daegu Association. <Editor’s Note>
- Medi-City Daegu Association (MDA) oversaw the overall operation of Daegu City’s COVID-19 response measures including designated clinics like drive-through screening and life treatment centers. What methods were used for operating these and what was prioritized the most during this process?
At 8 a.m. on February 19th, the day after patient No. 31 was confirmed, the heads of all institutions that make up MDA gathered in Daegu City with Mayor Kwon Young Jin to discuss initial countermeasures. Since then, we established the COVID-19 Countermeasures Headquarter and did not rest a single day, fighting against the coronavirus for about a month. Even after the confusion from the initial spreading phase of the virus was controlled to some extent, the executives of the designated hospitals for COVID-19 treatment have been continually holding working-level responsive action meetings 2~3 days a week.
During the early phase of the rapid viral spreading, MDA placed the highest priority in stabilizing the situation and focusing on countermeasures to prevent a second wave. For that, we worked hard to secure and appropriately allocate hospital beds, medical staff, prevention supplies, medical devices, and other related resources, which were insufficient in the beginning. Furthermore, by classifying patients (severe and minor symptoms), we put our utmost effort in treating patients with severe symptoms. For now, we are in preparation to publish a white paper and a “bible” on the infectious disease based on our experience in case of a second wave of COVID-19 in the future.
- MDA functioned like a bridge between Daegu City and the medical staff during the COVID-19 crisis. What was the biggest challenge when played a lot of roles at the center of it?
MDA is a cooperative system between Daegu City and the local health/medical society. As you can see from the board composition of directors, since all the heads of Daegu City and the local health/medical organizations participate, we have not functioned separately but have always been working together as one. Although we established a stable cooperative system that is hard to find in other cities, we faced many difficulties due to COVID-19, a disease we have never experienced before.
Plus, there were many difficulties in securing enough hospital beds and medical staff at the medical site. However, Daegu City and medical institutions have continuously coordinated each other’s positions and worked on solving the shortcomings. Most of all, I believe that COVID-19 was able to be stabilized in its beginning phase because the hospitals in the city displayed a true sense of duty as they operated despite financial losses.
- What was the biggest role of MDA during the recent COVID-19 crisis in Daegu City?
MDA was not able to go directly to the field because it is strictly not a medical institution. However, it functioned as a control tower that supports the fight on the field by securing and providing required hospital beds, medical personnel, medical devices, masks, and other equipment. Also, it played the role of a private healthcare platform as well by coordinating the position of Daegu City and medical institutions. At that, we would like to express our sincere gratitude again to the medical staff who have dedicated themselves to the field, and the citizens of Daegu who voluntarily practiced social distancing.
- I heard you have quickly communicated with the heads of each university hospital during this COVID-19 crisis. Was there any disagreement or confusion while discussing and establishing countermeasures? What was the biggest obstacle when coordinating the different stances?
Of course, there were bound to be disagreements or confusion. The stance of Daegu City, which prioritizes citizen safety differs from that of the medical institutions, which directly work in the field. Moreover, as it is an emergency response situation if a hospital becomes a designated COVID-19 treatment facility, there is no doubt the hospital will suffer from a huge financial loss. However, the hospitals devoted themselves to treating COVID-19 even after considering such a problem, and the Daegu City also understood this and refrained from putting too much pressure on them. Thus, there were differences in opinions, but none in confusion.
Now, since the situation has become stable/some extent, the issue of loss compensation remains. As the hospitals have participated while taking losses into account, I hope that compensation can be made as much as possible so that the sacrifices the hospitals made can be respected.
- You have emphasized the need for the establishment of a specialized hospital for infectious diseases in Daegu City where the prevention of COVID-19 has been successful. Why do you say so?
As the whole world has been suffering from COVID-19, South Korea’s response in controlling COVID-19 has been praised and benchmarked by many other nations. Many foreign media are emphasizing the need to introduce and follow Korea’s methods. Daegu has the best experience and foundation established for responding to infectious diseases from having faced a massive infection for the first time.
Therefore, it is desirable to have a hospital specializing in infectious diseases promoted by the government in Daegu City. Daegu will be most suitable to operate the hospital, for it is establishing a permanent infectious disease response system and the highest level of medical care in Korea. Also, there are limitations to expanding public health care, such as hospitals specializing in infectious diseases. The most important thing in responding to infectious diseases such as COVID-19 is the organic cooperation of university hospitals, large hospitals, and health care organizations, as proved by the case of Daegu.
- Recently, civic groups and some members of the Daegu City Council strongly rebuked the policy of “Medicity Daegu” and MDA for only focusing on the development of the medical industry.
I also read the article in which one member of the city council rebuked about the Medi-City policy. At that, I was buried in thoughts. I never expected to see that, out of all people, a member of the city council from Daegu stating such remarks amid this painful time in which COVID-19 has not ended yet.
Sadly, some people don't see anything else by focusing on one side of the story. The Medi-City policy begins with improving the quality of health care in Daegu City and patient-centered services. For this reason, the Medical Quality Improvement Committee and the Medical Service Improvement Committee are at the center of MDA.
For the past decade, these committees have continued to hold Patient Safety Day events and campaigns for medical service improvement. As a result, we were able to establish a high-quality health care system and ultimately became a leader in attracting foreign patients. And recently, through the Medical Tourism Industry Committee, we have further contributed to the stimulation of the local economy as well as the overseas expansion of related industries such as the medical device, bio cosmetics, and tourism.
Hence, rebuking without carefully considering the facts above has angered all members of Daegu City’s health care society who are fighting against COVID-19 every day out in the field. Of course, we admit that there are areas we fail to notice and properly address. If you make a valid criticism with an accurate analysis of facts, we will willingly answer by working to resolve it.
- As COVID-19 has been controlled to some extent, public awareness on the importance of social distancing has been slowly disappearing.
COVID-19 has not ended yet. Chances of reoccurrence still exist. As shown by the case in Singapore, we should never let our guard down with COVID-19. We can further be aware of this by observing the recent outbreak in Itaewon. We should not forget the hardships we experienced due to the COVID-19 crisis. I would like to sincerely ask that you carry out social distancing in your daily life and follow the everyday rules of COVID-19 prevention, although it brings discomfort.