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Clinics under gun - MoBay violence putting pressure on public health facilities but Cornwall Regional coping

Published:Monday | September 26, 2016 | 12:00 AMChristopher Thomas
Outside the Cornwall Regional Hospital in Montego Bay, St James, yesterday.

The rampant, violent criminality in Montego Bay, St James, is squeezing the lifeblood out of the public health system in the parish, but the main facility in western Jamaica, the Cornwall Regional Hospital (CRH), is coping.

Last week, medical personnel in sections of Montego Bay told The Gleaner that the pressure is getting to them, with some facing threats from criminals demanding special treatment.

One doctor told The Gleaner that he was prepared to walk away from the public-health sector if he is not transferred from western Jamaica shortly.

This has prompted Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton to plan a visit to the region. Tufton, who is now in Washington, DC, on an official visit, told a Gleaner special investigative team, now based in Montego Bay, that he has received the reports and will tour at least three clinics in the volatile communities on Thursday.

He is scheduled to visit clinics in Glendevon, Salt Spring and Granville, which have been heavily impacted by the recent flare-up of violence in St James.

The tour will be conducted with representatives of the health ministry, the Western Regional Health Authority (WRHA), the Peace Management Initiative, and the police.

"The violence which has been affecting areas of St James has also impacted the work of the health facilities and has been a major challenge for staff. Health is already a high-stress environment, so I am very concerned about the added pressure that this situation has placed on our staff," Tufton later said in a release.

He said the tour would seek to allay some of the fears of the staff and look at what security improvements, if any, can be made at the facilities.




Tufton called for the community to stand against the perpetrators of violence to ensure that they can continue to access much-needed and important services such as health care without undue interference.

But even as some medical personnel complain, Tony Hart, chairman of the CRH, told The Gleaner that the facility was managing its patient load effectively.

Although the murder tally in St James now stands at 199, with at least 15 murders having been committed in Montego Bay in the past week - including the shooting death of one victim in Irwin last night - Hart pointed to the creation of a new female ward at the CRH as the saviour.

"We have just put in a new female ward [and] it eased a lot of the stress everywhere, because we were under a lot of stress. They have managed the patient load there, though with great difficulty," Hart told The Gleaner.

"The doctors have worked overtime. All the doctors and nurses are doing an amazing job, and the situation has calmed down a lot now, so I think that it will be all right," added Hart.

"We never transferred any patients ... . It was just long hours, and we coped. The new ward has helped a lot."

Availability of resources to adequately treat patients, particularly blood for operations and bed space for patients awaiting surgery, has posed a serious challenge at the CRH in recent times.

Last December, Calvin G. Brown, the then chairman of the WRHA, observed that the hospital's numerous surgeries for gunshot victims had resulted in a significant shortage of blood, which, in turn, contributed to the deaths of four premature babies at the facility.

"One of the reasons why we do not have blood platelets is because of the many shootings and accidents we have been having. Because of all the operations that we have had to perform, it depletes the amount of blood that we have at the hospital," said Brown.




In June this year, consultant neurosurgeon at the CRH, Professor Renn Holness, complained that treatment of numerous gunshot and accident victims stifled the hospital's capacity to perform operations on other patients.

"We are overwhelmed with the trauma and with the gunshot wounds and accidents occurring now. Right now, Montego Bay is paralysed," said Holness.

"I have people with brain tumours, several cerebral aneurysms, [and] spinal cord compression waiting for surgery because we can't get them in an operating room."

In the meantime, Hart said efforts would be made to further reduce the patient load at the CRH by urging persons to seek treatment for minor complaints at their local community health centres.

"What we are trying to do, and what the health minister is intending and is working on, is getting the community clinics to do a lot more work to stop people coming in to CRH, so we are upgrading all of them right now," said Hart.

"A lot of people come in to the hospital just because they think they get better treatment there, but if they know they get good treatment at the clinics, they will go there, and they will not have the wait they have in the hospital. All these things do not happen overnight, but we are making moves."

- Arthur Hall contributed to this story