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Eleven coronavirus patients die after oxygen malfunction at North Ossetian hospital

Source: Meduza
Olga Smolskaya / TASS

Eleven coronavirus patients died in a hospital in Russia’s North Ossetia after the intensive care unit lost its oxygen supply on Monday, August 9. According to the region’s acting head, the oxygen supply was cut off after an oxygen pipe burst underground. The 11 patients who died were reportedly in serious condition and on ventilators. The regional health authorities have mobilized additional intensive care physicians to monitor the surviving ICU patients, and oxygen supplies are being sent to the hospital from other regions. The head of Russia’s Investigative Committee has taken personal control of the criminal investigation into the incident, which was launched on charges of failure to meet safety standards.

An oxygen malfunction at a hospital in Russia’s North Ossetia has left 11 patients dead. The accident took place on Monday, August 9, at the Republican Clinical Emergency Hospital in the regional capital, Vladikavkaz. At the time, there were 71 people in the hospital’s intensive care unit, including 13 who were on ventilators. Initially, nine people were reported dead due to lack of oxygen. Medical workers reported the deaths of two more patients on the morning of Tuesday, August 10. The North Ossetian authorities said that two of the patients died while on oxygen support, but due to critical lung injuries, not as a result of the accident.

All of the victims — eight women and three men — were coronavirus patients. They were all in critical condition with 90 percent lung damage, said North Ossetia’s acting head Sergey Menyaylo. “It’s still impossible to unequivocally say what exactly led to the death[s]. The inspection will tell,” he told Interfax on Monday.

Oxygen supply to the intensive care ward was cut off after an oxygen pipe burst underground. According to Menyaylo, “the oxygen pipe burst from the reservoir, which is located underground, and the oxygen supply was stopped.” The depressurization was detected and fixed within 30 to 40 minutes, he noted. An unnamed source told Interfax that the accident was caused by the “deterioration of equipment.” 

The surviving ICU patients were connected to backup oxygen sources. The North Ossetian Health Ministry has mobilized all available intensive care doctors in the region to monitor ICU patients at the Vladikavkaz hospital. Additional oxygen supplies will also be delivered to the hospital from other Russian regions, including from the Krasnodar krai, the Stavropol region, and Kabardino-Balkaria. This will be enough to supply patients with uninterrupted oxygen for the duration of the repairs following the accident, the North Ossetian Health Ministry assured. 

State investigators have launched a criminal case on charges of the fulfillment of works or rendering of services that do not meet safety standards (under Criminal Code Article 238, section 3). Investigative Committee Head Alexander Bastrykin has taken personal control of the investigation. In addition, Menyaylo promised to provide hospitals in North Ossetia with oxygen stations, but warned that “we won’t set them up quickly.” A group of intensive care physicians from Russian Health Ministry’s Center for Disaster Medicine were also sent to Vladikavkaz, along with experts from the federal healthcare watchdog, Roszdravnadzor. 

Update. Later in the day on Tuesday, North Ossetian investigators reported that the Republican Clinical Emergency Hospital’s chief physician had been detained as a suspect in the criminal investigation into the oxygen malfunction. The investigators intend to appeal to the courts to jail the doctor pending trial. Though local investigators didn’t release the suspect’s name, the hospital’s website says the chief physician is Vladimir Pliev.

Oxygen malfunctions in the Moscow region and Rostov-on-Don have also led to patient deaths in the past year. In February 2021, three patients died at a hospital in the Moscow region after oxygen supplies were cut off. Loss of oxygen supply at a coronavirus hospital in Rostov-on-Don in October 2020 is believed to have killed between five and ten patients. However, the local authorities denied that the oxygen malfunction caused the patients’ deaths. Following the incident, state investigators opened a criminal case for causing death by negligence; the Rostov region’s health minister and the head of the Rostov Health Department also stepped down.

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Story by Olga Korelina

Translation by Eilish Hart 

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