University Hospital reeling after bacterial infection forces closure of Renal Unit
Erica Virtue, Senior Gleaner Writer
Some chronic end-stage renal failure patients at the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI) were forced to find treatment elsewhere last week after health department officials ordered the shutdown of the Renal Unit.
The shutdown order came after representatives of the Public Health Department and the health department of the UHWI confirmed bacterial contamination of reagents used in dialysis.
The health departments started an investigation after a male patient at the hospital was said to have contracted a bacterial infection of his fistula - a surgically created link between the artery and vein.
"The bacteria was in the water system that is used for dialysis and it was in the acids they used. A man of some financial means with a fistula was infected. That is where the artery and vein are joined to create access to the machine. He got mad and called in the officials," said a Sunday Gleaner source.
The source noted that seriously ill patients in need of dialysis last week descended on the already overburdened Kingston Public Hospital (KPH), but it was unclear how many were accommodated.
COSTLY PRIVATE TREATMENT
Other patients needing dialysis forked out thousands of dollars to get treatment in private facilities.
Persons reportedly paid between $9,500 and $20,000 for care in private facilities, compared to $6,000 they would have paid UHWI, or free at the KPH.
According to the source, the closure of the Renal Unit was "improper" as it was done when some senior officials of the hospital, including key members of the unit, were overseas conducting examinations.
Other hospital officials, who asked not to be named, said the problems in the Renal Unit are part of a larger set of problems facing the UHWI.
"People have been asked to buy everything as the hospital is operating hand-to-mouth with no money to purchase even the most basic items," said one source.
"Patients are dependent on haemodialysis for their lifetime, and it's not cheap. The people are not paying. They would pay a $2,000 and come in as emergency patients while they are really in the elective programme.
"Like all things, the Renal Unit is just bankrupt. And the numbers of those needing treatment just keep climbing," added the source.
Efforts to get a comment from the leadership of the hospital were unsuccessful last week.
Going without dialysis not an option
Former senior medical officer at the May Pen hospital Dr Winston Dawes last week noted that end-stage renal failure is the last step of chronic kidney disease, when the kidneys, which remove waste and excess water, can no longer support the body's needs.
"Haemodialysis is using the dialysis machine to pass the blood for dialysis. The process removes blood from the body and sends it through a special filter which helps to remove the harmful substances and the treated blood is then returned to the body," explained Dawes.
"What is normally done is that a vein in the arm is joined to an artery. After a time, they form a connection called a fistula, which lowers risk of infections and lasts longer. Because of the increased pressure, the vein becomes dilated and the blood won't clot as easily as a regular vein," explained Dawes.
More than 2,000 Jamaicans are on the registry with chronic kidney disease.