Tue | Apr 13, 2021

CORNWALL CRISIS - Patients on oxygen clutter corridors as Gov’t launches COVID recruitment drive

Published:Wednesday | February 24, 2021 | 12:26 AMJanet Silvera and Nadine Wilson-Harris/Gleaner Writers
Patients on chairs at Cornwall Regional Hospital because beds have run out.
Patients on chairs at Cornwall Regional Hospital because beds have run out.

WESTERN BUREAU: Patients are now forced to sit out their stay in the corridors at Cornwall Regional Hospital receiving oxygen – stark imagery of the scale of Jamaica’s coronavirus crisis which is choking public healthcare facilities. “We are in a...

WESTERN BUREAU:

Patients are now forced to sit out their stay in the corridors at Cornwall Regional Hospital receiving oxygen – stark imagery of the scale of Jamaica’s coronavirus crisis which is choking public healthcare facilities.

“We are in a crisis. We currently have isolation patients, not in isolation, sitting back to back with trauma unit patients,” a doctor who has become frustrated with the conditions at the Montego Bay hospital told The Gleaner on Tuesday.

“We have no more beds, not even a chair. Oxygen tanks are running out,” said the doctor, requesting anonymity for fear of sanction for speaking out of turn.

Doctors at the major western Jamaica hospital disclosed that patients do not sit six feet apart – in accordance with social-distancing guidelines. Some are merely a foot away.

“Recently I saw two patients, total strangers, sitting back to back, fall asleep on each other,” the doctor said.

COVID-19 patients with mild symptoms have been turning up at the hospital, saying they have nowhere to stay and they cannot return to cramped homes that threaten the safety of family members.

Currently, at least 18 nurses are out with the virus.

Errol Greene, regional director of the Western Regional Health Authority, said that the infrastructure at Cornwall Regional was insufficient to contain the surge in COVID-19 cases.

Greene also disclosed that the hospital was running low on oxygen for the past week.

“We have had to have delivery every single day, instead of every two or three days,” he told The Gleaner.

News of the Cornwall crisis is a sobering reminder as the Government launches a recruitment drive targeting retired and specialist nurses among other healthcare professionals to ease burnout amid Jamaica’s worsening COVID-19 situation.

Minister of Health and Wellness Dr Christopher Tufton disclosed on Tuesday that 13 of 22 hospitals across Jamaica are currently on “red alert” – a benchmark indicating occupancy rates exceeded 84 per cent for isolation facilities.

Of this number, nine hospitals are at 100 per cent or greater capacity.

The development comes as the country recorded 2,818 new COVID-19 cases last week.

Mass recruitment of trained personnel has resulted in insufficient health practitioners at some hospitals. At the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI), for example, 42 nurses have left since January to take up offers in other countries.

“Persons who may have been retired who still have the energy and the interest, we would like to bring them back on board, at least for a period of time to deal with the challenges that we face,” Tufton said at a COVID-19 press briefing on Tuesday.

Besides increasing COVID-19 cases, there has been an uptick in patients on general wards, particularly those with respiratory illnesses. While hospital administrators are being admonished not to turn anyone away, the health minister has urged Jamaicans to visit hospitals only if absolutely necessary.

Tufton said additional bed space to accommodate COVID-19 patients will be made available at the UHWI and at the National Chest Hospital.

The field hospitals in Falmouth, Trelawny, and at St Joseph’s Hospital in Kingston are near completion and arrangements have also been made with administrators of Andrews Memorial Hospital to treat non-COVID cases.

The ministry intends to reallocate $48.7 million of its controversial $422-million communication, marketing and logistics budget towards equipping hospitals with additional resources to deal with the surge in cases.

A one-year contract valued at $22 million that was awarded to One Integrated Group to assist with public education has since been slashed to $16.4 million. The contract has been reduced to nine months.

The $422 million was aimed at a mass behaviour-change campaign to increase take-up of the vaccine when it arrives.

Jamaica has been promised up to 249,600 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine through the COVAX Facility later this month. Other sources are also being explored for vaccines, but Tufton said that take-up would likely be a challenge.

Efforts to gauge the willingness of health workers to accept the vaccine have provided some daunting statistics.

“We are hovering around 30-40 per cent in some instances,” said the minister, indicating that in some regions, it was a bit higher.

editorial@gleanerjm.com