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Concern over abandoned hospital patients

St Ann social workers appeal to relatives not to walk away and leave the elderly

BY RENAE DIXON Sunday Observer staff reporter dixonr@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, March 30, 2014    

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ST ANN'S BAY, St Ann — Officials of the Social Work Department at the St Ann's Bay Regional Hospital are urging relatives of elderly patients not to abandon them at the institution.

According to regional social worker in the North East Regional Health Authority, Janet Boswell, persons continue to leave elderly relatives at the facility and this has created a strain on the hospital as the bed space available is affected.

Boswell was addressing people who gathered for an exposition put on by the department in celebration of Social Work Day at the facility recently. Social Work Day was celebrated under the theme, 'Promoting Social and Economic Equality'.

"They are treating the hospital as a nursing home or like the infirmary," Boswell said, adding that many persons believe that the Government is responsible for the elderly and so they leave them at the hospital.

"They have a responsibility to care for their elderly relatives," she pointed out.

The regional social worker said that the social work department is often tasked with finding relatives of abandoned patients and when they do find them, many deny knowing these persons.

"This issue is rapidly increasing and is an islandwide problem for the social workers within the hospitals," said Kerrian Adair-Campbell, social worker at the St Ann's Bay Hospital and coordinator of the expo held at the facility.

Adair-Campbell also pointed out that law enforcers are also guilty of leaving persons at the facility.

"We have people, including the police, who take persons from the streets and communities and drop them off on the hospital compound and leave them. We are then faced with the problems of identifying these persons at times, as some of them cannot speak and there are some who plainly refuse to speak and those who will give minute details," she explained.

The problem does not stop there, she said, as family members flatly refuse to take their relatives home. Persons who do not need to be admitted in the hospital or who are discharged are often at the facility, as there is no one to take them.

"Some say they have no space, or they have financial problems caring for them," she stated.

Boswell also pointed out that many persons refuse to care for their elderly fathers on the basis that these fathers did not care for them during their younger years.

"One of the biggest complaints is that when the children were younger the father did not care for them," she stated.

Boswell said that the cases of abandonment were high and that relatives "need to step up and care for parents".

While it may seem unlikely, Adair-Campbell said that there are also those "who are just plain cold and heartless", awaiting their relatives' death so that they can acquire certain possessions.

"Family members at times come to the hospital to get legal documents signed by their relatives handing over property and things of value in their care," she said.

Although the task is challenging, she explained that as social workers, they try to address the issues.

Adair-Campbell said that social workers ensure that when persons are left at the hospital they are properly integrated back into families and communities.

"When relatives and the home or location from which they came are identified, we do a home assessment and a social enquiry. After that, we move to reintegrate these persons in their home and with family and social support and link them with the responsible networking agencies that can assist them," she said.

She also pointed out that persons are able to come in and talk to workers in the department and get help. However, many persons are not aware that the social work department exists at the health facility or the functions that it carries out. One of the chief objectives of the expo was to make more people aware of the department and the services offered.

Although it may seem strange, according to Shernett Todd, social worker at the hospital, "many persons do not know that a social work department exists in the facility or what the department actually does.

"We want to educate the public about our social work department here," Todd said.

She described the exposition as a success, with

several organisations making presentations. Participants included CISOCA, PATH and the Women's Centre of Jamaica Foundation. Patients visitors and employees at the facility listened keenly to the presentations, asking several questions of the presenters.

The audience was very engrossed in the presentation of police personnel, Corporals Melesia Francis and Andrea Tulloch from CISOCA, who addressed issues of rape and sexual abuse. The women revealed that during the last sitting of the St Ann Circuit Court there was a 100 per cent conviction rate for sex-related cases.

"If you lose a loved one and you feel like you are not coping, you can come to the social work department and we will offer you counselling," Todd said, in speaking of some of the services offered in the department.

Persons who have been abused physically or sexually can also go into the department, which may also refer them to other agencies.

The department also deals with issues relating to abused and abandoned children.

"If you are stressed out and you feel like you want to give up; if you are having suicidal thoughts, we will counsel you and take it from there -- refer you to another agency," she added.

Among the activities done at the expo was stress management and depression screening for adults and children.

According to Todd, one of two social workers at the institution, the expo was a hit with the public.

"It was well received," Todd said.

The event was being held for the first time, and according to coordinator Adair-Cambell, it is expected to be an annual one.

"The day's event was a success, with the short time frame in which we did our planning and organisation. It was very informative and I know persons have gained in-depth knowledge about the profession and the different agencies," Adair-Campbell stated.

"Plans have not yet been fully discussed but we want to go out into the town area of St Ann's Bay where we can reach more persons," she continued.

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