Nowhere to bathe - Parents at Bustamante hospital face discomfort, officials ask for reports
Several parents who have had to camp out at the Bustamante Hospital for Children to keep an eye on ailing young patients have revealed that they are forced to bathe outdoors on the hospital compound after being denied access to bathroom facilities.
Yesterday, responding to the declarations from the parents during a Gleaner investigation, hospital authorities said they have never received such complaints and urged parents to report staff who bar them from accessing bathrooms as this was not an official directive.
At Bustamante, parents are allowed to stay indefinitely to help nurses and doctors administer care to their children.
But with no access to bathrooms, many parents, especially those who are not from Kingston, say they go for days without a bath. Others, who can't withstand this unhygienic practice, confessed to breaking 'hospital rules' in order to freshen up.
"The hospital rules say you [parents] can't bathe on the compound, so we have to hide and do it. I bathe behind the morgue. A lot of garbage behind there, but there is a hose and a pipe that I think is to wash off hospital equipment, but we have to be skillful and go behind there to bathe," Simone Palmer said.
During the Gleaner probe, parents showed at least four other areas where they secretly took baths after dark.
They indicated that these 'bathroom' spots have been chosen because of standing pipes or large tanks, which, originally, are provided for hospital staff to use.
Others who refuse to bathe outside confessed that they brushed their teeth and freshened up in a public restroom located at the hospital's Casualty Department.
But this has also been deemed illegal.
"When I try to brush my teeth in the Casualty bathroom, they say I can't brush it down there, so I have to hide," Palmer confessed.
"Once, I was here for four days and I went into the Casualty bathroom without them [hospital authorities] knowing. I wet my rag in the face basin and I wiped my arm and my private [parts] because there is not a shower in there. It's just the toilet and the face basin," another parent, who asked only to be identified as Julicia, explained.
Many of the parents with whom The Gleaner spoke said they were told by nurses and other hospital staff that an area was provided in the past for parents to rest and shower. However, that facility was reportedly shut down because it was misused by parents.
"I hear that parents had sex in the place, so that's why they shut it down," another parent offered.
Yesterday, Anthony Wood, CEO of the hospital, said there was an overnight facility, including bathrooms and bedrooms, that is supposed to be open for parents to use. He said parents who are turned away should notify hospital authorities.
"We do have that facility and the nurses do know, but we have to do it under control. We have a patient services manager, and that [overnight] facility comes under her control, and once she is notified, she makes the facility available to that parent, so I find it strange that my staff, or anyone, would want to make such comments," Wood said.
He further made a public appeal for parents who are barred from using bathroom facilities to report the matter to his office.
"Come. My office is open and I will investigate and confront it," Wood asserted.
But a 29-year-old mother, who only wanted to be identified as Sandy, said that she repeatedly asked nurses for permission to use the children's bathrooms but had been denied.
"They say the bathrooms are strictly for children. You have so many parents travelling from miles and miles away to be here, so regardless of what happened in the past, there needs to be a bathroom. If the bathroom is here, have a security guard stand at the bathroom. A parent doesn't need more than 20 minutes to bathe and get back to their child," she continued.
She later admitted to showering behind the morgue after going two days without a bath.
One hospital staff member, who spoke with The Gleaner on condition of anonymity, told The Gleaner that the overnight facility parents spoke was not totally out of use and was being occupied by a parent from a foreign country.
"Maybe officials don't want it to look bad that someone from overseas don't have anywhere to stay. But it's the local parents who are expected to go home and shower," the staff member said.
But like Julicia, who said her child refuses to take medication from anyone but her, going home is not an option for many parents.
"I would never leave my child here for 10 to 14 days, reason being, you have sometimes 35 to 40 children on a ward and you have three to four nurses. There is no way all 40 children will be taken care of. You have children with special needs who need attention around the clock that only a parent can provide. So for every parent to leave because of the bathroom facilities, it would be hard for nurses," Sandy said.
The parents said their plight was further worsened when they had to interact with doctors and nurses who could sometimes smell their body odour, caused by the lack of a proper bath.
"You have some persons who don't have a family member in Kingston to go to for a shower, don't even want to go beside the morgue to take a shower, and you have to talk to the nurses and they turn their faces away because they [parents] are smelly.
"And you have to remember many of the parents at this hospital are mothers. So for females to be here and be going through that time of the month, feeling messy and nasty, we need somewhere to take a shower, and it's full time now someone step up to this," one mother said.