Mandeville Hospital seeing better days – CEO
Mandeville Regional Hospital in Manchester

IN recent times Mandeville Regional Hospital has been seeing much better days, says chief executive officer at the facility, Alwyn Miller.

The hospital, with 120 doctors and which suffered a bed dilemma two months ago, resumed elective surgeries on Tuesday, October 19.

A surge in COVID-19 cases had forced the facility to operate in “emergency mode” for the past nine weeks, following an exceeded COVID-19 ward capacity.

“We are transitioning from emergency mode. We are exiting the emergency mode as of next week where we will resume urgent elective surgeries and so forth. During this [now-ending emergency mode] period we have been focused on strictly emergencies. So, we will be transitioning to a stage where we will be doing emergencies, of course, and urgent electives to include the cancers, et cetera,” Miller said.

“This is after assessing the situation with regards to the COVID numbers, which have come down. The COVID-19 numbers fluctuate. The number is basically slightly below the capacity of our isolation wards so it gives us a little bit more room in terms of bed space on our surgical wards to allow us to proceed with more surgeries and be able to accommodate more in-patients,” said Miller in a Jamaica Observer interview.

Miller told the Sunday Observer that the tightening of the COVID-19 measures played a significant role in the shift back to regular operations, as the COVID-19 numbers have decreased.

“It was shortly after those measures were put in place and the lockdowns that we started to see a decline in the numbers,” he said.

Back in August, the facility had resorted to placing some patients on mattresses on the floor in the outpatient department, which was deemed a “holding space” amid the island's third wave of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Patients were lying on mattresses on the floor with oxygen cylinders in close proximity.

Mandeville Regional also had to postpone surgeries, repurpose a paediatric ward and send home non-critical patients, to accommodate the increase in COVID-19 patients requiring hospitalisation.

Senior medical officer at the hospital, Dr Everton McIntosh told the Sunday Observer that the bed capacity at the time for COVID-19 patients was under 40.

“Our capacity was 34, and that has not increased. We are still at that capacity,” he said of the hospital that underwent a $700-million refurbishment in 1997 under the National Health Sector Rationalisation Programme, according to the Southern Regional Health Authority.

“The numbers in terms of positive COVID cases have dropped. The number of positive cases has been in the mid-20s for the last few days, in the isolation wards,” McIntosh continued.

A picture began circulating on social media that highlighted the situation within the hospital, showing over 10 patients lying on the floor and oxygen tanks placed on top of chairs.

McIntosh added that whilst a few people found it off-putting to see patients in that manner, it also served as a much-needed reality check.

“I would say it probably served as a wake-up call for many people. We have been telling them all along that this outbreak has the potential to overwhelm the public health system and that a lot of persons would die as a result. When persons saw those pictures, for a lot of people it really [hit] home that things are really bad and that they need to start taking responsibility and do what they can to stop the spread of the virus,” he reasoned.

“Maybe a few persons were disgruntled but overall, it was just expression of concern and support.”

Furthermore, the reality also prompted donations from the private sector to aid in the fight against the virus.

“There was a significant outpouring of offers of assistance to the hospital and, by extension, to other facilities in the region. It was beyond our control. We were overwhelmed and we didn't have the capacity to provide beds for everybody that was coming in.”

Meanwhile, Miller reiterated to the Sunday Observer that the situation has vastly improved.

“That is not the situation right now, and it is important to note that the provision of the mattresses was in response to an influx of patients and also the inclement weather at the time — following Tropical Storm Grace at the time — and the fact that some of those patients would have been under tents and some would have been in our Accident and Emergency Department,” he said.

“We had to find a way to accommodate those patients in a more secure environment without compromising the function of our Accident and Emergency Department,” he explained.

Given the public's digruntled reactions to the pictures, though, the CEO had this to say:

“But I think that, after some explanation, I believe that persons understood why we had to do that. As I had explained, under emergency circumstances like when we have mass casualties and they exceed the capacity of the Accident and Emergency Department in terms of stretchers, the next option would have been to use mattresses to accommodate patients if necessary.”

Further, McIntosh said tents were still being utilised for screening.

“Persons will come here with respiratory symptoms and they don't go into the regular Accident and Emergency (A&E) area; they are diverted to the tent where they will be assessed. Swabs are done and, based on the result, that will determine whether they are COVID-positive or not,” he said, noting that individuals don't necessarily always have COVID-19.

“That has been the case from the get-go, so it is a protocol that is utilised. Persons will come in with fever and cough and so on, and you don't really know what it is as there is no sign that is specific to COVID.”

BY ROMARDO LYONS Staff reporter lyonsr@jamaicaobserver.com

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