Jamaicans to get 'top notch' care from US hospital ship team

BY KIMBERLEY HIBBERT
Senior staff reporter
hibbertk@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

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THOUSANDS of Jamaicans are set to benefit from free medical care and surgeries this week, provided by the US Navy Hospital Ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) that is now anchored in Kingston for the third time.

The team, which previously provided care to Jamaicans in 2011 and 2015, is expected to offer services up to November 1.

During a media tour of the Sabina Park walk-in site and the USNS Comfort on Monday, patients were a picture of joy as they could now access medical services and surgeries for which they have patiently waited.

Among them, two elderly patients expressed their gratitude, joy and anticipation as they look forward to being pain-free.

Hylton Gordon, 80, a wheelchair-bound resident of Kingston, is one of the many patients who have so far benefitted from the medical services. He recounted his health issues to the Jamaica Observer.

“I came here for weakness, my prostate and my eye, and they took time out to see me and see how best they could help me. I am really glad because I get lots of medication. My eyes are not seeing well. I got some tablets for my weakness. I was tested right through. I trust that when I take the medication I will feel much better,” Gordon said, smiling from ear-to-ear.

Reginald Longmore, 64, was also happy but anxious as he was awaited surgery to rectify a stomach hernia on-board the ship.

“I feel a little bit tense, just nervous and anxious,” the Spanish Town, St Catherine resident said.

He, however, mentioned that he was looking forward to relief from the swelling, severe belly pains and groin stiffness he has endured for years due to the condition.

It is anticipated that approximately 150 surgeries will be conducted aboard. Surgeries will fall under the categories of ophthalmology, general surgery, orthopaedic surgery, oral maxillofacial surgery, plastic surgery, wound care, and urology.

Commander Edwin Landaker of the USNS Comfort said he is looking forward to treating as many people as possible, noting that hypertension was one of the most common ailments observed on missions in the region.

“It contributes to kidney disease and heart disease. A normal reading is 120/80 [mmHg], we are seeing some high readings far above that. This is something that needs to be screened regular by a doctor, on a regular basis, to ensure it is controlled because there are no symptoms and the effects can be fatal,” he said.

The 10-floor USNS Comfort, which has 1,000 hospital beds, inclusive of 80 Intensive Care Unit beds, boasts a helipad, 12 operating rooms, a blood bank with more than 5,000 frozen and liquid blood units, portable radiology and ultrasound equipment, X-ray rooms, specialists in all forms of medical care, and tele-medicine service.

According to its head of nursing services, Captain Charles Cather — who gave a guided tour of the ship's facilities — he is happy to be in Jamaica and ready to serve.

“I don't care what language you speak, where you are from, once you need care, we are here to give care,” he said.

Besides procedures that will be done aboard the ship, two walk-in sites have also been established at Sabina Park and Greater Portmore Health Centre.

The walk-in sites will provide adult medical services, paediatric medical services, dental services, optometry, physical therapy, plastic surgery, and dermatology. They will operate from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm each day on a first come, first serve basis.

Minister of Health Dr Christopher Tufton welcomed the US team to the island.

“It is a self-sufficient vessel producing its own oxygen, water — everything. Critical to this is men and women who are from different parts of the world providing services to Jamaica. The facilities are modern and the care is top notch,” he said.

The health minister added that the ship's visit is all part of the partnerships required for public health systems to be fully functional.

“We get many partnerships per year, some big, some small. This one is the ultimate, in that it's a floating hospital, but part of the 200 plus missions that we get and [from which] thousands of Jamaicans benefit,” he said.

In relation to those who will benefit from surgery aboard the ship, Dr Nicole Dawkins Wright, director of emergency, disaster management and special services in the Ministry of Health and Wellness, shared that initially a list was prepared by the local health services, identifying 200 eligible individuals. Subsequently, that list was reassessed by the team from USNS Comfort.

“We would have selected around 200 patients before undergoing assessments done by our team, then an advanced team came from the ship and a secondary evaluation was done that reduced the number to 120. The surgeons aboard the ship have been here since (last) Saturday and did a third-level evaluation that allowed the patients to be selected for surgery that are at less risk, in terms of complications, and more likely to get recovery thereafter. This would have been 80 to 100 patients we are planning to do surgery on for this week. It should make a significant impact on the list of patients waiting to get surgery,” Dawkins Wright said.

Regarding follow-up care, Dr Tufton said the mission is a collaboration, and medical staff from the Ministry of Health and Wellness are monitoring the process to see where additional care is required.

“Our own people would have picked up the slack to monitor what is happening. So we do not have any concerns as it pertains to that,” he said.

Jamaica is the 11th of 12 stops on the mission trip through the Americas. Previous stops include Ecuador, Colombia, Grenada, St Kitts and Nevis, Trinidad and Tobago, Dominican Republic, and Venezuela. The next stop is expected to be Haiti.


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