Thu | Dec 2, 2021

COVID-19 has exposed ‘limping’ healthcare sector – NAJ boss

Published:Thursday | September 16, 2021 | 12:05 AMChristopher Thomas/Gleaner Writer
Patsy Edwards-Henry, president of the Nurses Association of Jamaica.
Patsy Edwards-Henry, president of the Nurses Association of Jamaica.


PATSY EDWARDS-HENRY, the president of the Nurses Association of Jamaica (NAJ), has said the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the long-standing structural deficiencies which have been plaguing the nation’s healthcare sector over many years.

“Even when we did not have the COVID pandemic, we never had enough resources to work with, whether it be personal protective equipment (PPE) or medication, and we have always had those challenges in the healthcare sector,” Edwards-Henry told The Gleaner yesterday. “We have what I would call a limping healthcare sector.”

“We have always had that uphill battle; it is just that it has come out more in the open because of COVID. Nurses have to purchase their own pulse oximeters because it is not provided for them, and they have to walk with their own blood pressure machines or thermometers to make life a little easier when they go to work,” added Edwards-Henry.

The NAJ president also said that certain resources may be in supply, but are not of the type or quality that is needed for specific procedures.

“I worked at the Victoria Jubilee Hospital for 30 years, and I do not remember a year, day or time when we have not had some resources that were deficient. Sometimes we may have had a lot of gloves, but what happens when you have 1,000 large gloves and 50 per cent of the staff wears medium and small gloves? They may have PPEs and N95 masks, but a lot of times they are not the appropriate ones,” said Edwards-Henry.


The issue of adequate equipment for frontline workers in the health sector was briefly addressed by Chief Medical Officer Dr Jacquiline Bisasor-McKenzie during the Ministry of Health and Wellness’ recent ‘COVID Conversation’ press briefing on September 9. At the time, she urged hospital workers to inform their senior medical officers of any issues with supply shortages.

The Jamaica Medical Doctors Association (JMDA) had previously reported that junior doctors did not have the required face masks to protect themselves while treating COVID-19 patients.

Addressing that concern on Tuesday, JMDA President Dr Mindi Fitz-Henley told The Gleaner that healthcare workers are often put at risk of contracting the virus when interacting with patients who turn up for other issues and may unknowingly get infected.

“Unfortunately, there are patients who are coming in for other reasons and also end up having COVID-19, and we do have medical staff interacting with COVID patients unknowingly, and that is a possible source of them being infected. It is horrible for us to keep hearing of our nurse colleagues who are losing their lives, because we know they have been battling on the frontlines,” said Fitz-Henley.

Annette White-Best, a nurse at the Percy Junor Hospital in Manchester, was the first nurse to die from COVID-19 complications. She was followed by Harriet Ledgister Blackwood, a hospital attendant in the dietary department at the Black River Hospital in St Elizabeth; Diagrea Cunningham, a supervisor for the paediatric and accident and emergency wards at the Savanna-La-Mar Hospital; Sudeen Lyn Fatt Colquhoun, a mental-health nurse at the Black River Hospital; and Donnette Gray-Morris, a nurse manager for the dialysis unit at the Cornwall Regional Hospital.

David Simpson, a maintenance worker at the Savanna-La-Mar Hospital died after contracting the deadly virus.