Mon | Aug 21, 2017

Editorial: UHWI too patient with patients

Published:Saturday | December 26, 2015 | 12:00 AM

We note with concern the University Hospital of the West Indies' (UHWI) disclosure, from its acting chief executive officer, Dr Kevin Allen, that it is owed $1.2 billion in patient fees. What makes it worse, the hospital is planning to write off 50 per cent of the debt, which represents a significant sum lost to the teaching hospital.

Dr Allen's press briefing, it is important to remember, was the latest episode in the so-called dead babies scandal, in which 19 neonates died after being infected with klebsiella and serratia bacteria at Kingston's UHWI and the Cornwall Regional Hospital in St James.

Outrage at the conditions and protocols breaches in the maternity wards of the hospitals triggered the yanking of the health portfolio from Fenton Ferguson - who was reassigned to the labour ministry to save face for him and the Simpson Miller administration - and the sacking of the boards of the UHWI and the Western Regional Health Authority, which has oversight for Cornwall.

A report detailing the deplorable state of the hospitals, put in the spotlight only after having been pried from the hands of Dr Ferguson amid the clamour of civil society, was a canvas of operational neglect and managerial sloth. Operating theatres were marred with mould, basic hygiene standards ignored, and medical professionals forced to resort to workarounds to get their jobs done.

This reinforced the sense of chaos revealed, months earlier, by Dr Alfred Dawes, then president of the Jamaica Medical Doctors' Association - including the fact that doctors had to fashion garbage bags as make-do aprons for surgery - that had come to define Jamaica's health-care regime. The rot was systemic.

Besides the managerial incompetence that had been evident, a lack of money to purchase supplies and equipment was fingered as one factor behind the substandard state of the hospitals.

And that is why we expect the new board of the UHWI, chaired by respected businessman James Moss-Solomon, and comprising a mix of proven professionals, to put the hospital managers on a tight leash and not allow the facility to be a sieve through which millions of dollars go down the drain.

Dr Allen, the UHWI's acting CEO, sought to assure the public that the hospital used a number of creative strategies to get patients to settle their debt. But those methods aren't nearly creative enough!

Previous board administrators failed spectacularly to arrest a culture of apathy to clearing hospital bills that is bound to continue unless the Moss-Solomon board applies a tourniquet to the crisis.

Having assessed how much of the debt is realistically recoverable, we expect the UHWI to expeditiously hunt down every red cent - even if this requires the services of private debt-collection hounds. Such funds are vital to the operational health of the hospital and could plug crucial gaps that still exist in aligning the standards of its neonatal unit, for which there remains a $114-million shortfall in completing the UHWI's systems overhaul.

Further, we are confident that Messrs Moss-Solomon and Allen will ensure that rigid oversight be enforced so that all current patients, and new ones yet to arrive, will pay their fair share. For the UHWI can't always come cap in hand to a broke Government grappling with the age of austerity.