Mon | Sep 20, 2021

Staff knuckle down as hospitals buckle under COVID

Published:Wednesday | February 24, 2021 | 12:17 AMNadine Wilson-Harris and Jonielle Daley/Gleaner Writers

The University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI) in St Andrew has rung alarm bells and is in crisis mode as wards spill over with patients under the weight of the coronavirus outbreak.

Kevin Allen, chief executive officer of the UHWI, said the hospital was bursting at the seams as all four tents on the premises were full.

“We have agreed that we are going to reallocate and put the patients on one of the wards, so that we can make another 24 beds available to release the pressure ...,” he said in a phone interview with The Gleaner while in a task force meeting on Monday evening.

On Monday, Allen reported that two wards and an intensive care unit designated for COVID-19 patients, as well as the wards at emergency medicine and the isolation area, were full. At last count, nine COVID-positive patients at the UHWI were critically ill.

It was revealed on Tuesday that 25 beds were being allocated for an additional COVID-19 ward at the UHWI.

Jamaica on Monday recorded six COVID-19 deaths and 147 new cases from 582 test samples, with a positivity rate of 27 per cent.

A positivity rate of five per cent or less is globally viewed as manageable.

The island’s overall infections have topped 21,800, with 405 deaths.

Maximised COVID-19 bed capacity has become an islandwide dilemma for several hospitals across Jamaica, and Allen admits that the number of healthcare professionals available is just not enough.

“We are not where we would like to be. We need additional help, and we will be working with our partners to see how best we can engage other professionals to come on board and to help us,” Allen told The Gleaner.

The spike in COVID-19 cases and limited bed capacity prompted the UHWI to appeal on Monday to the general public, private medical practitioners, and other hospitals referring patients to make contact ahead of time or prior to transfers.

The cell numbers issued were (876) 541-1043 and 541-1044.


In the midst of the overflow, workers in the pharmaceutical department have told The Gleaner that the UHWI continues to run out of medication occasionally because of tardiness in clearing debts with drug companies.

Allen, however, rejected those claims as false.

A pharmacy staffer told The Gleaner that there have been instances where surgeries had been postponed because of a shortage of heparin, which is used to treat and prevent blood clots.

“Around two weeks ago, we were out of almost all the IV antibiotics,” the worker, requesting anonymity for fear of sanctions, said.

The employee disclosed that other drugs such as lidocaine, a local anaesthesic used in the operating theatre, and phenytoin, used on seizure patients, were also short.

“At one point, we had a large number of people who normally come here and get their medication. We are losing customers because they are not coming here now,” the worker said, explaining that persons were tired of turning up and leaving empty-handed or with only some of their prescription meds.

The worker said the hospital has been trying to hire recruits because of staffing issues. Allegedly, even families of COVID-19 patients have had to fill patients’ prescriptions elsewhere.

President of the Practical Nurses Association of Jamaica, Stephanie Powell, has criticised Jamaicans for flouting COVID-19 safety protocols, while adding to the distress of healthcare professionals.

Practical nurses are required to interact directly with patients while carrying out their duties, which include the recording of vitals and patient care.


Powell said the South East Regional Health Authority had requested a list of persons who needed the vaccine, but the wait grows more frustrating and bleak.

“It is overwhelming. We are just trying to cope, and with talk of the vaccine coming and it is not here yet, then everybody is kind of concerned,” she told The Gleaner.

There are 3,000 practical nurses registered in the association.

Regional technical director of the North East Regional Health Authority, Patrick Wheatle, said hospitals within the region were moving around patients in a bid to manage scarce resources amid the crisis.

“There are some facilities where we have piped gases ... so persons who are in need of respiratory support are moved to these facilities,” he said.

The Port Maria Hospital in St Mary is not equipped to facilitate COVID-19 cases.

Therefore, patients have been housed at the Annotto Bay Hospital in St Mary and the St Ann’s Bay Hospital in St Ann. Both hospitals disclosed that they are operating at full or near capacity, he said, with Annotto Bay fluctuating day by day.

“There are patients who are going to have to be chaired while we try to sort out how we are going to assist them within our facilities,” said Wheatle.