Jolyn Bryan, Gleaner Writer
More than two years after the construction of a new wing at the St Thomas Infirmary, indigent persons in St Thomas still rely heavily on the services of the Princess Margaret Hospital for housing and daily care. The multimillion-dollar facility, which was funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and built at a cost of $19.6 million, was partially furnished, but has not been in use since its construction in 2011.
Though it was built to replace wards at the infirmary and did not increase the facility's capacity, staff at the hospital believe that opening the ward would make a great difference in the care and housing of the homeless and indigent in St Thomas.
The facility has remained closed due to issues stemming from the construction of a proper sewage system. In previous years, a plan was proposed to build an absorption pit, but this was rejected as the infirmary is close to several domestic wells in Springfield. The Health Department recently approved a new sewage system, and though the parish council has begun work, progress is slow.
Currently, the Princess Margaret Hospital has had to resort to housing these persons on the integrated ward alongside patients who need long-term health care. Yvette Thompson-Walker, acting director of nursing services, explained to Rural Xpress that as of last week, there were 12 persons on the ward who qualified as 'social cases', as they are described by medical staff.
rude and disruptive
"They are mostly males here now, and the longest person we've had has been staying here for10 years. Sometimes relatives just come and drop people off, and we have to turn them away because if we took all these persons, we wouldn't have the bed space for people who are in genuine need of hospital care," she said.
They can be difficult, rude to nurses, and are sometimes disruptive. Often, these persons have injuries or disabilities that would be better served by family or out-patient care, but in many instances, there is no one who is able or willing to claim them.
Dr Cecil Batchelor, senior medical officer at the Princess Margaret Hospital, shed some light on the issue: "We don't have an active social worker at the hospital, and the Poor Relief Department has many cases currently that they are looking into. We get indigent persons, especially around Christmas time. Some are brought by the police; others are left by their relatives. Some of them are sugar workers that came from other parishes who became elderly and didn't have any support system or didn't establish any strong ties. Some have family, but when we go to their area, they say they don't know the individual."
Some families are content to leave their loved ones with the hospital, where they are assured that they will be adequately cared for and fed. Thompson-Walker explained that sometimes relatives sneak on to the ward to visit their loved ones, but when confronted, they will leave or deny knowing them.
As is to be expected, the resources of the hospital have been taxed with the additional responsibility of the long-term housing and feeding of these patients. And in the event that they die, they are buried in paupers' graves, with the bill for the funeral and burial being delivered to the hospital. Some die without ever being identified and are recorded by the hospital as 'Unknown'.
Batchelor believes that the establishment of several well-managed elderly and indigent homes would be an ideal remedy to the ongoing issue. But in the meantime, the opening of the infirmary's ward would ease the pressure.
No date has been given by the St Thomas Parish Council for the completion of the sewage system or for the opening of the new ward.