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GROUNDED!

COVID test foul-up thwarts nurse’s plan for overseas job as travel requests pressure UHWI lab

Published:Tuesday | March 16, 2021 | 12:22 AMAndre Williams/Staff Reporter

“What have they done with my sample?” That’s the question bugging mental health nurse Angela James after an apparent bungling in the testing chain at the University Hospital of the West Indies resulted in her not getting her COVID-19 result and...

“What have they done with my sample?”

That’s the question bugging mental health nurse Angela James after an apparent bungling in the testing chain at the University Hospital of the West Indies resulted in her not getting her COVID-19 result and subsequent clearance to depart Jamaica for the Cayman Islands last Friday to take up a job offer.

“You have to book online to get a COVID PCR test at the UHWI. I applied online the Sunday night (March 7) for the test to be done Wednesday. I also went to the hospital the Monday morning and an attendant asked why not Tuesday because Wednesday would be too close to my flight date. So it was changed from Wednesday to Tuesday,” James said.

She paid $18,500, did her test as planned and started to prepare for travel.

The results are usually sent via email. However, James said that up to yesterday, she had not received an email correspondence from the UHWI.

“I checked my email about 100 times, no message. I said something is wrong and I tried calling. I spoke to someone, and would you believe the lady is going to say, ‘I am very sorry to inform you but your COVID sample is one of nine that cannot be found’?”

James was forced to inform her potential employers in Cayman that the travel plans had to be aborted.

“You can’t find my sample from the Tuesday, you don’t see it Wednesday, and you don’t call be back on the Wednesday?” James asked, saying that if she had been notified, a new swab could have been given on Wednesday.

“If I didn’t call the UHWI hospital what would have happened? Remember I fry up my fish, escoveitch, breadfruit – all of that to go … . My food, the preparations that I did, is spoiled,” she lamented.

With Cayman Airways only doing flights from Jamaica on Fridays, and the next two weeks’ flights booked out, and no flight scheduled for April 2, she may have to wait until April 9 to leave.

“What am I to do until that time?” she asked, adding that she has been out of work since resigning in November to take up the offer.

“My blood pressure is high. I was to leave in December, but things didn’t work out, paperwork was going slowly. Remember, I’m not working and I leave my job because I am going to a better future. I still have bills to pay, still have to eat. I am worried now, things taking too long, the process is going too slow. I am on medication right now,” she told The Gleaner.

Dr Alison Nicholson, consultant microbiologist and head of the UHWI’s Department of Microbiology, said the sample could have gone missing for different reasons, depending on where the swab was taken.

“The samples are taken manually to the lab. So porters are employed to take the samples from one place to the other. I can’t tell you that it has never happened. Some persons will tell us that the sample was in the refrigerator, for example, in one area, but when the samples come to the lab we can’t tell you what was where, we can only account for what we have,” Nicholson told The Gleaner, adding that it would not be surprising if samples popped up a day later, although such instances were uncommon.

“If we have 100 persons going away, it may happen on occasion that one or two out of the 100 may end up [missing], … but it would not be happening on a wide scale,” she said. “Sometimes it is not that the sample is lost. Sometimes the batches are transported from the testing site to the lab in two different batches. One batch may have come in later and, therefore, missed the processing for that particular day.”

While in dialogue with our news team, a search was conducted and the sample believed to be James’ was found, but would be void for the purpose of travel as the three-day window had passed.

Nicholson said that the 72-hour window for negative tests is a challenge the department try to meet for travellers.

“We are working ourselves to the bone. ... It’s a juggling match to try and make sure this person goes before this person because their flight is at such a time. The alternative to that is to say, ‘Alright, we not going to test’. Instead we push, we stretch to the max and try our best,” she said.

andre.williams@gleanerjm.com