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Heads need to roll over Golden Age Home tragedy

Friday, October 23, 2020

We are not going to tip-toe around the issue — as the Caribbean Community of Retired Persons (CCRP) seems constrained to do — heads must roll over the discovery of multiple COVID-19 cases at the Golden Age Home in Vineyard Town, St Andrew.

Earlier this month, 43 residents and three staff members at the home tested positive for the coronavirus. We are told that the Government is fast-tracking the testing of all 428 residents and 162 staff members.

This high number of positive cases at the island's largest facility for seniors is a calamity. Given the history of COVID-19, no one is going to be surprised if a much larger number of positive cases, and possible deaths, emerge from the batch of tests being done.

Perhaps not wanting to mash any corns, the CCRP could only manage to say in a press statement that it “is deeply concerned at the cluster of COVID-19 cases at the Golden Age Home in Vineyard Town”.

The organisation then quickly went on to say that it acknowledged “the collaborative and swift response” of the ministries of health and wellness, and local government and rural development, while welcoming “the closer monitoring and tightened protocols that are now in place”.

This is no time for commendations. The ball was carelessly dropped on the matter of supervision and monitoring of the COVID-19 protocols. The “closer monitoring and tightened protocols that are now in place” should have been in place before — not after the horse had bolted.

Indeed, in May, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the country was assured by the prime minister and the minister of local government that “all infirmaries and golden age homes have the adequate personal protective gear for workers, and the workers have been using the gear accordingly”.

We are most definitely not assured by Local Government Minister Desmond McKenzie's declaration this week that the necessary health and safety protocols were put in place at the Vineyard Town home.

“All the measures that were laid down when we gave the infirmaries a charge that we are not accepting any new patients, no visits, the protocols in terms of the sanitisation [and] temperature checks, they are all in place,” he said.

Nor are we buying into Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton's argument that “the positive cases were despite the safety measures put in place at the facility…to reduce or even eliminate the possibility of the virus coming in”.

The minister said that when he went there three weeks ago, temperature checks were done, hand-washing stations were in place, workers coming in had changing arrangements so they would not bring in any possible contamination on their clothing, and there was isolation or the separation of blocks so people were not co-mingling.

Someone messed up royally regarding the Golden Age Home, and it must not be left at that. Nothing less than a full investigation is necessary to determine what went wrong and what must be done to ensure that there is no repetition.

The Golden Age Home began its sordid history as the Eventide Home on Slipe Pen Road in Kingston, emerging out of one of the worst episodes of political violence when the facility was set on fire on May 20, 1980, with some 150 elderly women occupants.

We clearly don't do well by our seniors.