$540m for health care workers

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$540m for health care workers

COVID incentive payments being reinstated, says Tufton

BY SHARLENE HENDRICKS
Staff reporter
hendrickss@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, February 19, 2021

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Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton yesterday announced the allocation of $540 million for the continuation of COVID incentive payments to health care workers who had complained that they were owed for almost a year.

“There was a hitch, in that there was a budgetary period which ended, and so the incentive payment was essentially discontinued or had expired,” Dr Tufton said during his ministry's COVID Conversation virtual news conference.

“But I'm happy to announce that we are going to reinstate that incentive payment, and there is an allocation of $540 million to the Health Care Workers Incentive Programme for the next nine months.

The plight of doctors assigned to Annotto Bay Hospital in St Mary was first brought to national attention by this week's Sunday Observer, which reported that they had not been receiving COVID-19 incentive payments and had set March 1 as a deadline to either be paid or stop treating COVID-19 patients.

One of the affected doctors, who spoke to the Observer on condition of anonymity, said each time a claim is made it is sent back requesting additional information.

“At first they wanted a timetable, then a roster, and it was sent. Then a register was requested; everyone signed the book. The reason keeps changing and it seems no one is trying to help. Each time something else is requested, we do it, and still nothing. Some people have not been paid from March. Some have got July and August. To make matters worse, now we are hearing that only the last three months (October, November, December) will be paid, and anything above that won't be paid, and these claims were all submitted long ago,” the doctor said.

The doctor told the Sunday Observer that the issue is mainly affecting medical residents and, to the best of their knowledge, other staff members had been paid. The doctor said some colleagues who received the incentive had only been paid for some months over the one-year period.

“This is exploiting and it's wrong. It's months we have been putting ourselves at risk, going into a ward taking care of patients where we can carry these illnesses home to our families, then it's a runaround to get our money. We are told they will get the last three months, but from March up until May 2020 we won't be getting that money. What kind of foolishness is that?” the doctor asked.

According to the doctor, residents were recently informed by a regional representative that, based on information received from the human resource unit at the North East Regional Health Authority, the payment of special incentives for work in the novel coronavirus pandemic has been stopped effective January 31, 2021 until further advice is received from the Ministry of Finance.

On that note, the doctor said, come March 1, if the owed payments had not been received the affected doctors have vowed to no longer attend to COVID-19 patients.

Contacted for a response, Marsha Lee, CEO at Annotto Bay Hospital, said when COVID-19 hit there were initial glitches, but over time things were ironed out.

“It's new to everybody, so we didn't grasp it at first. The doctors would usually do a general roster, but with the COVID claims it needs more than just the regular roster showing your eight hours. It was a teething process, and then gradually they would get it,” she said.

Lee also said some doctors had been paid, but for those who had not received the incentive payments she is unaware of what the barrier might be. She, however, explained that the claims were discontinued for a short period, which also proved to be a challenge.

Yesterday, Minister Tufton said: “I don't need to underscore the importance of our health care workers. I want to again say that they are absolutely critical to the COVID response; [they] have been critical, [they] have been our heroes in many respects and without them we just can't make it work.

“So we know they are under stress and we want to ensure that we give them as much support as we can. This is the Government's and the ministry's leadership, and the incentive scheme we have will resume and the resource is there to support it,” he said.


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