Sun | Jul 12, 2020

NURSING HOME SCARE - Infirmary worker infected with coronavirus, ­triggering quarantines and calls for mass testing

Published:Wednesday | May 27, 2020 | 12:24 AMCarl Gilchrist and Romario Scott/Gleaner Writers
Desmond McKenzie, local government minister, talks to a resident of the Golden Age Home in Vineyard Town, Kingston, on March 30. Infection of a St Ann Infirmary employee has triggered a call for mass COVID-19 testing of workers at nursing homes.
Desmond McKenzie, local government minister, talks to a resident of the Golden Age Home in Vineyard Town, Kingston, on March 30. Infection of a St Ann Infirmary employee has triggered a call for mass COVID-19 testing of workers at nursing homes.

CONCERNS ARE heightening about the safety of aged residents at the St Ann Infirmary, with a worker there contracting COVID-19 and triggering home quarantine for 21 of his close contacts.

The male employee has been placed under isolation in a government facility.

The infection has triggered an alarm because the new coronavirus has been ­brutally fatal to elderly persons with underlying medical conditions that make them most vulnerable. Infirmaries or nursing homes also escalate that risk, with one-third of United States COVID-19 deaths up to mid-May linked to those facilities.

Jamaica has so far recorded 564 cases and nine deaths.

Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton yesterday disclosed that the 21 persons included 12 high-risk members of staff, all of whom have been sampled.

“The individual is currently asymptomatic,” Tufton said at a Jamaica House briefing yesterday.

The minister said that up to May 25, all 80 permanent staff members, some visiting employees, and 106 residents at the infirmary were sampled for the coronavirus.

“We have so far tested six of 14 infirmaries islandwide. We are expecting to get the results of the sample within the next couple of days,” Tufton said.

The COVID-19 scare at the St Ann Infirmary has prompted a call for the immediate testing of workers at infirmaries and nursing homes islandwide.

Seniors advocate and founder and chief ­executive officer of the Caribbean Community of Retired Persons (CCRP), Jean Lowrie-Chin, said that testing of workers should be ­immediately conducted, even as president of the Nurses Association of Jamaica, Carmen Johnson, described the news as “quite unfortunate”.

“This is of great concern,” Lowrie-Chin told The Gleaner yesterday afternoon.

“Now the persons with whom he came into contact must be tested as soon as possible so they can get the necessary medical attention.”

Samples have so far been collected from 510 infirmary staff members islandwide.

The health ministry, Tufton said, has assembled the inspection team for the island’s nursing homes.

Since March 2020, 118 nursing homes have been inspected, together with three hospitals.

Eighty-five, or 72 per cent, of the nursing homes have returned satisfactory results. Thirty-three have been deemed unsatisfactory.

“I hope there will now be islandwide testing of the workers in our infirmaries and nursing homes. The residents are our most vulnerable. This is urgent,” Lowrie-Chin insisted.

Johnson, who had spent several years working at the nearby St Ann’s Bay Regional Hospital and would have been familiar with conditions at the infirmary, said she was hoping that the vulnerable residents at the infirmary would have been protected from the virus.

“We were hoping we could have kept it out of our infirmaries for a little longer because the concern was, as our borders and the economy reopened, we know that persons would be moving around and so the risk of it (COVID-19) moving around also increases,” Johnson said.

She added: “We work in a country where we move about and COVID-19 itself sometimes doesn’t show itself in an obvious manner, so persons wouldn’t recognise that they have contracted it, and so, it’s one of those unfortunate things.”

Johnson expressed the hope that the authorities would do follow the testing and sanitising regime in order to minimise the risk of spread.

Local Government Minister Desmond McKenzie, who said he was “dismissing” mischief, said that there was adequate personal protective equipment at all infirmaries. He also disclosed that all infirmaries “have up and running isolation units” over the last couple of weeks.

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