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Sav-la-Mar ‘super nurse’ dies of COVID

Published:Wednesday | September 1, 2021 | 12:08 AMAlbert Ferguson/Gleaner Writer
Nurse Diagrea Cunningham and her husband, Rayon Cunningham, in happier times.
Nurse Diagrea Cunningham and her husband, Rayon Cunningham, in happier times.


Tuesday’s death of a nurse to COVID-19 jolted healthcare workers at Savanna-la-Mar Hospital in Westmoreland, the tearful grief a graphic reminder of how the coronavirus has cast a shadow over families and workforces.

Diagrea (pronounced ‘DEI-DRE’) Cunningham, 37, of Farm Pen district in the parish, is the second active Jamaican nurse to succumb to the virus in recent weeks.

Her passing coincided with the report of eight new fatalities, bringing the country’s death toll since March 2020 to 1,518.

Cunningham, who recently tested positive for the coronavirus, was employed at the Savanna-la-Mar Hospital, where she worked as a supervisor covering both the accident and emergency and paediatric wards.

The registered nurse was married to Rayon Cunningham, who works at the same hospital in the capacity of a procurement supervisor in the maintenance department. Their union produced three children aged three, seven, and 12.

“There is a sheet of sadness and gloom covering the entire hospital ground and the family home,” said Patsy Edwards Henry, president of the Nurses Association of Jamaica (NAJ).

“It’s a member that has passed. She is married to someone who works at the hospital, so it is affecting everybody here,” added Edwards Henry, after visiting with relatives and co-workers of the deceased.

“Just looking at them breaks your heart,” the NAJ president said of Cunningham’s widower and mother.

St Andrade Sinclair, head of the Western Regional Health Authority, said that Cunningham received excellent care and that no effort was spared in trying to save her life as she battled the deadly virus.

“There wasn’t any oxygen shortage. We would have made special care of our own, especially in times like these,” said Sinclair, who declined to dlsclose Cunningham’s vaccination status, deferring to her doctor and family.

Cunningham’s death is likely to resurrect concerns laid bare recently about the treatment options available to healthcare workers with hospitals struggling to find sufficient bed space and oxygen supplies amid record reports of coronavirus deaths, hospitalisations, and infections.

Three weeks ago, Percy Junor Hospital’s Annette White-Best was confirmed as the first case of a nurse dying after contracting COVID-19 on the job.

White-Best succumbed after waiting for a long period for a ventilator.

Retired nurse Linnette Johnson passed away from COVID-related complications two Thursdays ago, hours after her husband died from the disease.

Anxiety about care standards was the last straw among a mix of issues that stoked a nurse sickout last week in the wake of a statement by Prime Minister Andrew Holness that no priority group would be predetermined for treatment beyond the triage protocol.

Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton confirmed that the issue was raised in an online meeting with 300 nurses on the eve of the sickout.

In addition to staffers, visitors seeking treatment at Savanna-la-Mar Hospital on Tuesday were also distraught at Cunningham’s death.

Maxine Thelwell, of Savanna-la-Mar, was one such person. Thelwell described Cunningham as an exceptionally caring nurse.

“If she saw you looking sad, she was one to stop and talk to you and see how best she could help you ... . The hospital has lost a super nurse, so I can understand the tears from her colleagues,” said Thelwell.