Tue | Sep 26, 2017

'Treated like animals' - Jamaicans decry health care workers in new survey

Published:Monday | November 14, 2016 | 11:00 AMAnastasia Cunningham

Fed up with the poor treatment experienced at public hospitals, Jamaicans continue to give the country's public health-care system a failing grade, revealed a recently conducted survey of the health sector.

Health workers' rude attitude and lack of care and compassion, especially for the poor, terrible service and treatment, and the extremely long wait times to get through were the main things that irked persons who sought medical attention in the public sector.

In The Gleaner-commissioned study conducted by Johnson Survey Research Ltd, 44 per cent of the participants ranked the health-care system as 'not so good', compared to the miniscule four per cent who rated it as 'one of the best' in response to being asked how they would rate the health-care system in Jamaica.

Asked why they felt that way, 39 per cent said the wait time was too long and the service too slow; and 22 per cent said health-care workers didn't care, were rude, and offered poor service. In fact, 20 per cent of the respondents went as far as to say health-care workers "treat you like animals".

Polling 1,200 men and women between ages 18 and 65 during the month of September, the survey sought to gauge Jamaicans' view of the health-care system and the improvements needed.

Of the 75 per cent who believe Jamaicans do not have access to good-quality health care in the country, 57 per cent said the poor in the country were not cared for, hence one needed money in order to get proper health care.

Ann-Marie Anderson, who took her mother to the Kingston Public Hospital (KPH) a few months ago after she collapsed, is among the many Jamaicans who are complaining about the quality of care meted out at public hospitals.

"We don't really have any money, so when she fell down in the kitchen, wi rush her to public. Mi nah lie. Mi wish, mi wish mi had money. Is really the first I go to the emergency there, and because the nurse look at her and say she wasn't that serious, you know how long wi sit down there waiting before wi see a doctor?" she shared with The Gleaner.

She said she was at pains to leave her mother there, but after waiting several hours, she had no choice but to leave her in the waiting area and go to their Richmond Park, St Andrew, home for clothing and other items. When she got back to KPH, her mother was still waiting.

"We practically spend the whole day before anybody pay her any mind and mi have to keep asking them. You should hear how them talk to mi till them all start ignore mi. One nurse make mi know them have real emergency, so I must stop bother them."

She continued: "Mek mi tell you something, you dead in this country if you get sick and don't have money."

Public-health nurse Karen McKenzie admitted that her colleagues could sometimes get "testy" with patients but pointed out that it was at most times out of frustration.

Working in the public-health sector for close to 17 years, including at three of the island's hospitals, the Christian said it was often "the grace of God that keeps me from exploding sometimes".

"It is not perfect. We don't have enough staff. We don't have the things we need. We have to work two shifts sometimes, all three if the person to come relieve you don't come, and you have to put up with a lot of things from the patients. I know they say nurses rude to them, but you should hear some of the things that come out of them mouth. You should hear how them threaten us all the time," she told The Gleaner.

"Two wrongs don't make a right, but respect goes both ways. Both the nurses and the patients and the people who come with them have to do better in how them deal with one another."

McKenzie is calling for the authorities to provide the necessary resources to help ease the burden on the health workers. She also echoed the cry that if nurses were paid better wages, there would be enough to have an equitable nurse-to-patients ratio.

Stakeholders have long been calling for the Government to adequately fund the health sector in order for it to be properly resourced.

Jamaica spends on average five per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP) on the health sector, half of what is recommended by international authorities.

The health-care survey was sponsored by the National Health Fund and the Ministry of Health.

anastasia.cunningham@gleanerjm.com