Sav nurses buckling under COVID pressure
COVID-19 pushed the crisis-hit healthcare sector in western Jamaica perilously close to breaking point on Tuesday when overworked nurses and colleague workers at the Savanna-la-Mar Hospital in Westmoreland temporarily withdrew their services, demanding that the facility be declared an emergency zone.
It took the intervention of Eric Clarke, chairman of the Western Regional Health Authority (WRHA), to convince the staffers, who were contending that they were fatigued and overwhelmed from working extremely long and challenging hours without any meaningful break.
“The nurses are literally on the point of breakdown ... . I told them I came to see them because I felt their passion, their dedication to their job, noting their inability to function when they are overwhelmed,” said Clarke.
“You’re talking about working 16 hours a day. They can’t even find time to stop for lunch. Every time they try to stop, somebody is there begging their help.”
According to a health official, a hospital can be declared an emergency zone when its patient count exceeds its capacity, as is the case now at Savanna-la-Mar.
“This is just too much for us ... . We are overburdened by these very long hours. The conditions are very stressful and every time you look around, another COVID-19 patient coming in,” a nurse, who asked not to be identified, told The Gleaner Tuesday afternoon, shortly after she and others reluctantly resumed duty.
“As we speak, I am trembling, I am a nervous wreck ... . If I don’t get a break soon, I am sure I am going to have a nervous breakdown,” added the nurse.
In an interview with Clarke, subsequent to his meeting with the frustrated health professionals, he agreed that the situation at the hospital had reached crisis proportions and fully supported the nurses’ call for the emergency zone designation.
“I think it is only a matter of communication ... . Savanna-la-Mar General Hospital was put into emergency mode from last week Thursday, which basically cancels elective surgeries,” said Clarke.
Savanna-la-Mar is a 205-bed hospital, but had 333 patients in need of bed space, Clarke.
According to Clarke, members of the WRHA management team were brought in to assess the situation and he was slated to have a meeting with St Andrade Sinclair, the regional director, late Tuesday.
Sinclair told The Gleaner on Tuesday that the WRHA had received approval from the Ministry of Health to establish a field hospital on the grounds of Savanna-la-Mar.
The field hospital would have a capacity of 30 beds, said Sinclair.
The regional director also revealed that church property next door to the hospital would be retrofitted. Another area is expected to be retrofitted with 14 beds at a cost of almost $4 million.
Clarke said that while the hospital has only 32 isolation beds, there were 84 patients on hand on Tuesday.
“We are now looking to see how we can create more space, and we are even thinking more long term, because from all indications, we have not peaked with COVID right now … . These things can double in the space of one week,” said Clarke.