Bed shortage crippling public hospitals again
A shortage of beds in the island's public hospitals have left some seriously ill patients admitted to wards having to stay in wheelchairs, ordinary chairs and benches.
Several hospitals are facing a large volume of patients as the country goes through the traditional flu season, and Sunday, Gleaner sources say getting beds to place patients is proving to be a challenge for administrators across the island.
"We need an additional 3,000 to 3,500 bed spaces but the challenge is the physical space to put them," Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton told The Sunday Gleaner, as he admitted that this is a challenge for the sector.
"I have enquired about the issue and there is a shortage, but more critical is the shortage of where to put the beds. We have not built a new hospital in 25 years, and with the shifting of the population we face, there is additional demand at some hospitals in relation to beds," added Tufton.
He said the health ministry is ordering additional beds but this is mainly to replace old ones which have done their time.
NO SPACE FOR NEW BEDS
Tufton noted that a hospital bed cost approximately $250,000, but argued that even if the State finds the money to purchase additional beds there would be nowhere to put them.
"The time has come for us to look at how to get additional space, and my position is that we should look at expanding the capacity through private-public partnership in a model that allows a revenue stream for a private investor, while ensuring access for persons who cannot pay," said Tufton.
He said his thought is to look at six or seven hospitals and partner with investors in establishing a private wing, diagnostic services, or other such areas that could provide them revenue to make their investment worthwhile.
The issue of the shortage of bed space in public facilities resurfaced last week when news emerged that a teenage boy, who was stabbed during a robbery in New Kingston, could not be admitted to the Kingston Public Hospital (KPH) after he was sent to Ward Two North, where no bed was available.
"He was admitted to KPH the same night (Friday), but he stayed in the wheelchair until they discharged him on Saturday. While we were on Two North, four other men and a woman also came on the ward but were seated on metal chairs joined together, because of the same problem, no bed," the teenager's mother told The Sunday Gleaner.
When the hospital's Senior Medical Officer Dr Natalie Whylie was contacted last week, she said questions about the availability of beds at the facility should be routed through the South East Regional Health Authority (SERHA).
Efforts to get a response from SERHA have so far been unsuccessful but The Sunday Gleaner understands that the KPH already has 200 more beds than the just under 600 is was constructed to accommodate.
The story was similar at the St Ann's Bay Hospital, from where our news team received frantic calls from members of a family who claimed that an elderly person spent three days in a chair at the facility because there was no available bed.
"We had to get a piece of sponge to put on the chair so she could lie down if she wanted to sleep," claimed the woman's son.
"But she wasn't alone. For when we went there on Friday, we saw a little girl about 10 year old who was in a chair, like what the dentists use, because of the bed situation. When we were leaving, she was still in the chair," added the son.
The shortage of beds in the public-health sector hit the front pages some three years ago with the story of Audrey Williams, who was admitted to University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI) after suffering a mild stroke, highlighted the problem.
"I was at a private hospital first and they sent me to UHWI. When I went there, they were unable to find a bed for me, and so I was in Accident and Emergency Unit for two days before a bed was found for me," she recalled.
Last week, senior medical officer at the UHWI, Dr Carl Bruce, said the hospital, which is not part of the Government's free health-care policy, has a bed capacity of 580.
"We are not overwhelmed on the medical floor or intensive care unit. We have an isolation ward for cases and we provide vaccines and Tamiflu," Bruce told The Sunday Gleaner in response to concerns that the number of flu cases was overwhelming the facility.
In January, then Minister of Health Horace Dalley announced that the Government would be expanding bed space at four hospitals during this fiscal year, which ends in days.
At that time, Dalley named KPH, Spanish Town, May Pen, and Cornwall Regional hospitals as the ones to get the additional beds. Dalley was speaking at the official handover of 76 semi-electric hospital beds, valued at US$57,000, by Food For The Poor.