Thu | Aug 13, 2020

Virus burnout cry - Tufton pledges to hire more doctors, nurses

Published:Monday | July 20, 2020 | 12:27 AMJason Cross/Gleaner Writer
Police Corporal André Gillespie serenades Nurses Association of Jamaica President Carmen Johnson during a church service for first responders, including doctors, police, firefighters, and emergency medical technicians, who have worked sacrificially amid t
Police Corporal André Gillespie serenades Nurses Association of Jamaica President Carmen Johnson during a church service for first responders, including doctors, police, firefighters, and emergency medical technicians, who have worked sacrificially amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The service was held at Webster Memorial United Church in St Andrew on Sunday.

The Government has been criticised for failing to reduce burnout among the nation’s nurses, who have been doubling and tripling up on duties at public hospitals and health centres amid increased workload since the onset of COVID-19. They have also had to defer vacation leave, The Gleaner understands.

Nurses Association of Jamaica President Carmen Johnson said that the 5,000-strong registered nursing staff have been forced into brutal shifts, some even reporting for duty seven days a week.

“The same individuals who run the clinics have to also be assisting their colleagues at the airports. They leave at 2 p.m. or 4 p.m. for the airports, come off in the nights, and go back to the health centres. They are burnt out,” Johnson told The Gleaner at a service for first responders, held at Webster Memorial Church in St Andrew on Sunday.

“Where two normally would be able to manage, we now need at least four or five nurses because of COVID-19. They can’t get any leave, and we can’t tell them not to work,” she said.

LACK OF CRITICAL EQUIPMENT

Besides calling for the hiring of more nurses, Johnson also lamented logistical issues as well as the lack of critical equipment.

“Some of the challenges have to do with the physical facilities in most of our health centres. You find that we don’t even have adequate equipment to work, and sometimes, nurses have to purchase their own,” she said, explaining that at some health centres, two nurses work a shift, tending to as many as 70 patients.

Johnson continued: “We have one nurse to 10 or one nurse to 15 and even 20. Even during COVID, that is unacceptable. What we need to establish is a nurse-to-patient ratio where we won’t have the kind of setting where we are overexposed.”

Minister of Health and Wellness Dr Christopher Tufton expressed gratitude for the efforts of nurses during the coronavirus crisis and said that arrangements were being being finalised to change the status of roughly 2,000 nurses from contract workers to staffers. He also pledged to hire more nurses.

“The last five or six months have been very challenging for public health. We are recruiting additional staff at the level of the community-health aides,” said Tufton.

“It will enhance the community response, generally. That will definitely take off some the stress.”

Tufton said, too, that the ministry was also looking to incorporate more doctors into the system who recently graduated from medical school or are currently out of work.

“I have met with the Ministry of Finance and others, and that is going well, so we should be in a position to make an announcement some time this week, hopefully.

“All of this combined would provide better support and will also allow our nurses to have a break because of the adjustments.”

The Sunday Gleaner reported last week that several doctors have lost their jobs, or been denied employment, purportedly because of budgetary constraints.

jason.cross@gleanerjm.com