“We want our money’ - Health workers upset as thrift club collapses
Hospital staff in facilities operated by the South East Regional Health Authority (SERHA) are demanding answers from the Ministry of Health regarding a thrift (savings) club, which they say was operated by the ministry, from which thousands of dollars of their savings have disappeared.
Members of staff at the Bustamante Hospital for Children, who spoke with The Sunday Gleaner last Thursday, said the thrift club was facilitated by the Ministry of Health and contributions were made to it last year by way of salary deductions, with the hope that money would be available at the end of the year.
However, members of the hospital staff are now in a quandary, as they say the money cannot be accounted for. Even more frustrating for the staff is that attempts to find out what has become of their savings have been unsuccessful as the ministry and SERHA are pointing fingers at each other.
"This is not payment for sessions, it is money that we decided to set aside; some people wanted to buy something for their kids at Christmas or to treat themselves," said one frustrated nurse, who asked not to be named.
"We really need our money because in these times, it's not easy to save any money, much less to save $70,000. Some people have saved over $100,000 and then end up don't get back anything or can't hear what has become of it. It is not fair. We could have placed this money under our mattress, but because we trusted that it is the ministry's thrift club, we put our money there," said the nurse.
Members of the thrift club included nurses, porters, and kitchen staff from hospitals including the Bustamante Hospital for Children and the Kingston Public Hospital. The staff members were encouraged to put aside as much as they could afford over the course of the year with the promise that the money would be available to them at the end of the year.
"In January, a few members were given cheques signed by the person who was supposed to be in charge of the thrift club. He told us that SERHA had not handed over all the funds, so instead of the full amount that was due, he could only pay out half, but the bank refused to honour the cheques because there is a hold on that account, and so persons are sitting down with the cheques just the same."
According to the staff, SERHA has disavowed any knowledge of the thrift club and has pointed to an employee of the health ministry, who has since left the island.
"This thrift club has been running much longer than I have been at this hospital, and every month you see on our pay slip 'MOH (Ministry of Health) Thrift Club', but at a meeting with SERHA, they were trying to say it was not a MOH club. It's just the person take it up on himself to form this thrift club. We don't accept that because no one man can just get up and start a savings club and operating it for so long without the permission of the ministry," argued the clearly exasperated nurse.
"Because of the uproar now with members not receiving any of their savings for December, what SERHA did was to discontinue the deductions and returned whatever money they collected in January and February, but all the funds paid before that are unaccounted for."
The Sunday Gleaner's attempts to get a comment from either the Ministry of Health or SERHA before press time were unsuccessful.