Fri | Dec 4, 2020

COVID burnout! - Health workers burdened as they fight stubborn virus

Published:Friday | May 8, 2020 | 12:25 AM
Albert Noble, 73, sits in his house along  Fort George Road in Annotto Bay, St Mary, which has been placed under quarantine after 13 COVID-19 cases emerged within days. Noble, who is among the high-risk age group, says that he does not have underlying issues and follows Gleaner and radio coronavirus updates and practises social distancing and hand sanitisation.
Albert Noble, 73, sits in his house along Fort George Road in Annotto Bay, St Mary, which has been placed under quarantine after 13 COVID-19 cases emerged within days. Noble, who is among the high-risk age group, says that he does not have underlying issues and follows Gleaner and radio coronavirus updates and practises social distancing and hand sanitisation.

Edmond Campbell/Senior Parliamentary Reporter

Conceding that healthcare workers in the public sector are burnt out as they combat COVID-19, Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton says the Government is taking steps to boost its personnel capacity.

“The truth is that our current complement of public-health staff members who are involved in contact tracing is quite burdened with the work that has to be done and some are even suffering burn out, understandably so, because we are in a really challenging time over the past three months,” Tufton acknowledged.

Members of the Special Select Committee discussing Jamaica’s response to COVID-19 have been quizzing the Government about the health ministry’s capacity to carry out sufficient tracing of persons who came in contact with someone who has tested positive for the disease.

Asked to give the total national complement of the workers deployed to carry out contact tracing, Tufton said, “I would have to get that information.”

In St Catherine, where there was an explosion of COVID-19 cases at the Alorica call centre in Portmore, the health ministry deployed about 250 personnel to conduct contact tracing.

The group comprised community health aides, public-health nurses, public-health inspectors, and contact investigators.

Dr Morais Guy, the opposition spokesman on health, suggested that the Government train and utilise members of the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) to carry out contact tracing.

He said that this would free up the overworked healthcare workers to carry out sampling and “the other things that are necessary outside of COVID”.

Tufton said that at least one quarantine facility was now manned fully by the JDF.

“We are also moving to expand our community health aides cadre,” said the health minister, adding that the ministry was in the process of finalising the numbers.

He said that the human capacity would be boosted going forward.

At yesterday’s committee meeting, members also discussed the issue of testing people admitted to public hospitals, beginning next week.

With some 180,000 people admitted to local public hospitals last year, it is estimated that an average 15,000 who are hospitalised would be tested monthly for COVID-19.

Asked whether someone with a physical injury would be tested for the coronavirus, Dr Jacquiline Bisasor-McKenzie, chief medical officer, said that the idea was to “return our hospitals to a sense of normalcy in terms of the care of our patients, not just patients with COVID, but patients who have chronic diseases and patients who have surgeries to do ...”.

According to Bisasor-McKenzie, the testing of incoming patients would remove any question about whether the person has COVID.

“We think that taking the stand, we would want to test everyone who comes into the hospital so that persons can have a certain level of comfort in terms of any type of management that is required for these patients. I don’t have to wait on a test result because it would be part of their processing,” she added.

edmond.campbell@gleanerjm.com