Mon | Jan 30, 2023

Cheap approach by Government blamed for unkempt bathrooms

Abuse also a key factor, counters Tufton

Published:Sunday | December 4, 2022 | 12:11 AMCorey Robinson and Mark Titus - Sunday Gleaner Writers
Audrey Hinchcliffe, founder and CEO of Manpower and Maintenance Services Limited
Audrey Hinchcliffe, founder and CEO of Manpower and Maintenance Services Limited
Dr. Christopher Tufton, Minister of Health and Wellness.
Dr. Christopher Tufton, Minister of Health and Wellness.
Dr Morais Guy, Opposition Spokesman for Health.
Dr Morais Guy, Opposition Spokesman for Health.
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Opposition Spokesman for Health Dr Morais Guy is blaming the Christopher Tufton-led health and wellness ministry for the unkempt, unhealthy state of several restrooms at public facilities unveiled in a Sunday Gleaner probe. But Tufton says that...

Opposition Spokesman for Health Dr Morais Guy is blaming the Christopher Tufton-led health and wellness ministry for the unkempt, unhealthy state of several restrooms at public facilities unveiled in a Sunday Gleaner probe.

But Tufton says that while the maintenance of public restrooms is a right for Jamaicans, it is also their responsibility to take care of the facilities.

The majority of the 14 public bathrooms and restrooms that The Sunday Gleaner visited last week left a lot to be desired, with shoddy janitorial services and lax maintenance making them unsanitary, uncomfortable and unsafe.

The facilities probed were spread across Kingston, St Catherine, Clarendon, Hanover, St James and Westmoreland, and included seven hospitals and four health centres.

“Ultimately, the minister is the one that has the responsibility. You can’t claim that you are going to be spending so much money to improve health facilities around the country when a simple low-hanging fruit such as hygiene in hospitals and health centres is not attended to,” Guy told The Sunday Gleaner on Friday.

“There are administrators and persons selected in particular roles to maintain the standard at the restrooms, but ultimately, it is the minister who must give an account,” Guy continued, adamant Tufton must take control of ground operations.

Guy argued that based on the reports, Jamaica may be teetering on the brink of a health crisis due to the state of the restrooms, and he is thankful there is not a cholera outbreak currently or the country would be doomed.

In response, Tufton told The Sunday Gleaner, “The truth is that in an environment where there are a lot of sick persons, more often than not, the conditions of the bathrooms quickly deteriorate, depending on who accesses it and whether they clean up after themselves. So it does require constant monitoring and perhaps more monitoring than normal.”

He continued, “Sometimes the patients, whether because of distress or otherwise, do abuse the environment and then we have to correct it. So you put new facilities in the bathroom – dispensers, toilet papers – and what we have found is that oftentimes they go missing very quickly because patients take those things out.”

Last year, Tufton had announced that the government had committed to a multi-billion dollar plan to improve the public health sector over the next three to five years.

‘THEY ONLY SELECT THE LOWEST BIDDERS’

Audrey Hinchcliffe, founder and CEO of Manpower and Maintenance Services Limited (MMS), which since last summer has pulled out of public hospital-cleaning operations, charged that the Government is not willing to pay for the best services and usually selects the lowest bidder.

MMS, she said, is only responsible for janitorial services at the Tony Thwaites Wing at the University Hospital of the West Indies in St Andrew.

“It is a bidding process and because of the cost of our service, we do not get them and so we are out. We were at Spanish Town Hospital for about 30 years and they kicked us out earlier this year. As a matter of fact, we have not even settled with them finally,” Hinchcliffe told The Sunday Gleaner.

“They go by price, the lowest bidder, and I’m not a low-bid company. We are almost always the highest bidder. If you want service, you have to pay for it. So when they came in with the low bid, we exit[ed] because we know the service we provide,” she said, adding that MMS has opted out of bidding for certain government contracts.

Hinchcliffe said the business of outsourcing hospital cleaning crews started with her decades ago, and that the competition has grown exponentially, though many companies do not understand the technical aspects of cleaning restrooms at public health facilities.

“It takes a trained worker with equipment, gear and the types of chemicals which are going to kill the bacteria and leave it smelling sweet. It is not a one size fits all. It is not about walking in there with a bottle of bleach,” she continued, citing differences in cleaning various types of bathrooms around the hospital space.

“Yes, I know we [have] very nasty people in this country, but our job is to ensure that we keep them clean,” Hinchcliffe said, noting that cleaning cloth, for example, ought to be colour-coded and janitorial equipment cleaned and stored in appropriate areas.

In spite of the challenges, Tufton said his task as minister has been to improve the customer service component of the island’s healthcare. In addition to decreasing wait times, making the facilities more comfortable and clean for patients remains a top priority, he said.

“This is the mantra of the Compassionate Care programme, where the Government, partnering with the private sector, aims to improve healthcare facilities through the training of staff in customer service, enhancing basic infrastructure such as waiting areas, and engaging persons as volunteers to offer good customer service,” the minister said.

corey.robinson@gleanerjm.com mark.titus@gleanerjm.com