Fri | Dec 6, 2019

Western Jamaica residents opting for private healthcare over hospitals

Published:Sunday | November 17, 2019 | 12:39 AMChristopher Thomas - Gleaner Writer

The Cornwall Regional Hospital.
The Cornwall Regional Hospital.


Though the Western Regional Health Authority (WRHA) is maintaining confidence in the Cornwall Regional Hospital’s (CRH) capacity to handle trauma cases despite long wait times, the challenges, which include migrating doctors, have caused some persons to be resorting to generally seamless but expensive private healthcare.

The Mt Salem-based Type-A hospital is currently undergoing restoration work to correct an issue of noxious fumes that forced the closure of its first three floors and the relocation of several departments in 2017. Since that time, new departments have been opened on the hospital grounds outside of the 10-storey building to facilitate the operations there, while several departments are currently being housed at the neighbouring West Jamaica Conference of Seventh-day Adventists and at the Falmouth Public Hospital in Trelawny.

But the hospital has not escaped other controversies which have predated the 2017 closure, as there have been accusations of elderly patients being made to sit in wheelchairs in the Accident and Emergency department for days before they can be attended to by doctors. There have also been problems with shortages of specially trained nurses, an issue which was present even before the noxious fumes controversy came to light.

Jacinth Mighty, a resident of the Meadows of Irwin housing scheme in St James, recounted to The Sunday Gleaner how she has witnessed extended delays when taking persons to the CRH for treatment, including one incident in 2014 where she wound up taking a patient to the Mo bay Hope facility (now Hospiten).

“One night, five years ago, about 2 a.m., my friend called me in severe pain, which we later found out was gastritis. We went to CRH, and it was the security guard that was doing the triage, so we did not look serious enough (to be considered an emergency), and we weren’t even let into the waiting area, so we went to Mo bay Hope,” said Mighty.

“I also have a staff member who has mental issues, and each time we are required to take him to the hospital, it is at least six to eight hours before we can get through. This has happened on at least three occasions, and this is sometimes after making contacts and links with people who we know.”

WRHA regional director Errol Greene admitted that there are challenges with long service delays and a shortage of medical personnel. However, he insisted that those issues are being addressed.

“Delays do impact the service delivery, but we have a triage system where cases such as incidents of trauma would be given priority. So no matter who they are treating, when a trauma case comes in, everybody drops what they are doing and responds to the trauma,” Greene explained.

“We do have challenges sometimes with our doctors, as they complain of burnout because of the long hours they have to work. We’re in the process of recruiting from Cuba, and we have interns from the universities that are rotated through CRH and the western region, but we still have a challenge trying to find a fit for the right number of doctors to carry out the services,” Greene added.


That confidence may not be enough to convince Stacey Nembard-Smith, of Little London in Westmoreland, who experienced similar delays at the Savanna-la- mar Hospital while seeking medical help for her mother in 2016, and also got poor customer service for herself at the CRH some time prior to that.

“We had an overnight wait at the Savanna-la- mar Hospital in 2016, and while my mother was having a stroke, doctors and nurses were passing without noticing, until someone my sister knew came over and checked on Mom. I later found her a nursing home to go to,” Nembhard-Smith recalled bitterly.

“Before that, I had pemphigus vulgaris (an autoimmune disease that causes blisters on the skin and mucous membranes), and the nurses at CRH shunned me and were saying I had AIDS, which was awful. The nurses were not kind to me,” Nembhard-Smith added.

While acknowledging that persons will seek private healthcare if they are dissatisfied with the quality or swiftness of service at hospitals, Greene suggested that anyone in need of medical care should seek aid from their primary healthcare providers, including local community health centres. This recommendation is in line with a recent call by Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton for citizens to attend their health centres before going to the larger hospitals for treatment.

“Persons will always seek private healthcare if they can afford it and if they feel they are not getting treatment fast enough. But we do have a number of situations where private facilities are now referring some of the most difficult cases back to the hospitals,” said Greene.

“We have stepped up our customer service and customer relations, and we have encouraged persons to use primary care as much as they can. Plus, we’ve even extended the hours in the primary care facilities. We have extended hours right across the region, and that opportunity is very well used in St James and Westmoreland, which are the two biggest parishes,” Greene added.