Public hospitals in Jamaica have become like death trapsTuesday, October 07, 2014
THE recent report of the death of Jason Forbes on the hospital floor of the Accident and Emergency Department at the Spanish Town Hospital brings into stark reality the fate that my family narrowly escaped a few months ago on two occasions. Consequently, we as a people, can no longer sit back and be deceived into believing that the public hospitals in Jamaica will be the refuge for the sick and dying.
Having seen the conditions that exist in health care at the hospitals first-hand, a gross deterioration from when I worked in the hospital system in the 1970s, you know that you are at the mercy of God when you enter these institutions that are supposed to save your life.
I gathered pictures of the conditions at one hospital's accident and emergency department. These showed people sitting in chairs for days, because they were not as fortunate as my mother to have received a trolley to lie on for the five days she spent in that department. The hospital beds were not available, and so she could not be admitted into hospital to be able to get the needed tests and evaluation to save her life.
Thanks to the overworked junior doctors and nursing staff, who were constantly there to render first aid, and attend to her needs when they found time away from the constant barrage of critically injured patients attending the emergency area.
I arrived in the island on June 25, 2014, five days after my mother was sent from a private hospital to the Cornwall Regional Hospital (CRH); the rationale being that CRH would be better equipped to handle someone who was having a congested heart failure (heart attack). I reached the hospital in the late evening and was advised to take my mother home as she would stand a better chance of survival if I treated her at home. I listened to the frustrations of the young and tired medical staff and the patients who were sleeping on chairs night after night, some of them with empty intravenous bags attached to them, as the hospital had no supplies to replace these bags.
One case that touched my heart was a teenager who was the victim of a hit-and-run accident. He sat in a wheelchair for about 24 hours in what appeared to be a semi-comatose state, unable to move or feel his lower limbs. After being placed on a stretcher, he started to respond and showed signs of being able to move his limbs.
At one time I heard a scream for help from the toilet and reluctantly went inside to investigate, since the auxiliary and other staff ignored the screams. When I entered the toilet, I saw a young girl trying to hold her grandmother up as she was between the toilet seat and the floor. With all this lack of care and insensitivity being too much to handle, I belted out words of chastisement at the young girl after she said she was trying to clean up her grandmother because she had been sitting in a chair for five days and had not been washed. I wanted her to understand that she was putting her grandmother in more danger and herself at risk of injury by attempting this on her own. It was then that compassion overtook me and I started to teach her proper lifting and transfer techniques as we both got her grandmother dressed and back in a chair.
Before taking my mother from the hospital, the doctors advised me to get her medication at the hospital's pharmacy, which was about to close. They wanted to ensure she had medication for the night and next morning. They told me I should return with her the next day to have the vital tests she needed in order to make a proper diagnosis and administer the appropriate treatment. I was once again alarmed to find personnel seemingly working at "public sector pace" with the customary "public sector attitude" and lack of compassion. I was actually told that the tests requested for my mother were not urgent and that the earliest appointment would be in six months. At that moment I started to make desperate calls to all medical and laboratory facilities in Montego Bay and was led back to the only private hospital that had working equipment to carry out one of the major tests immediately. Of course, you realise even this required a lot of "contacts" and pulling on the "who knows who" influence.
I was so incensed by the situation at the CRH pharmacy and the long wait the many people had to endure there that I started to teach them to take charge of their lives by demanding proper health care from their political representatives. I felt compelled to do this because one of the "political beneficiaries" there, an obvious grass-roots representative of this present administration, was spreading false political propaganda, relating to the "caring" government. I rebutted and tried to enlighten the people about the fact that successive governments, since our country's Independence, had failed us. Because of people like this propagandist, who obviously is satisfied with the political handouts he is given around election time and occasionally, others tend to believe the hogwash and accept less than they deserve.
My aunt experienced a similar situation a month later when she became acutely ill. She spent a few days and nights sitting in a chair in the emergency department at CRH, while the junior doctor who attended to her eventually informed me by phone that she was seriously ill. Fortunately for my aunt, her severe abdominal pain subsided enough to allow her to travel to England to get medical treatment.
In the case of my mother, I was able to find a great private doctor to attend to her serious heart condition. Had I not taken my mother from CRH, she may not be alive today. The tests she should have had done when she entered the emergency department was done six days after her initial heart attack and showed a large embolus (clot) in the artery that leads from the lungs to the heart. This is a condition that kills many people immediately, because the clot can move to the heart and not get stuck in the artery as was the case of my mother. Under the care of this private doctor, she was able to get medication to the tune of $20,000.00 per month for that single medication.
My questions are:
1. How many people in Jamaica who fall ill are able to afford private medical care?
2. Where is the political will to have programme evaluations done in the public sector and implement improvements so we can achieve effective functioning with the efficiency in service that Lee Kuan Yew achieved for Singapore?
3. Why is the press not interested in fighting for the health and safety of the masses rather than the sensationalism surrounding medical staff's threat to strike for salaries?
4. Why do we continue to have incompetent ministers of government under whose tenure the health system continues to deteriorate?
5. When will the governments of Jamaica adopt a comprehensive restructuring programme that is serious about cutting spending in areas that have no impact on how we as a nation learn and our leaders achieve benefits for the country?
Making the necessary changes is not about which comes first, "the egg or the chicken?" It's about caring for the future of Jamaica, being sincere in action, and putting politics second to the well-being of the suffering people of Jamaica. Health care is in trouble in Jamaica. Sick people are being deceived into believing that they will get the necessary help to save their lives if they go to the hospital. This was what Jason Forbes believed when he laid on the floor of the emergency department at Spanish Town Hospital begging for some relief from the excruciating pain in his stomach, which eventually resulted in his death.
Health care in the public hospitals in Jamaica could be compared to the gas chambers of Auschwitz to which the Jews went voluntarily, thinking they were getting hope from the starvation and beatings of the concentration camps. Yes, I am incensed, and I am planning to do something about it. I hope that others in Jamaica will help us save our nation.
I am guided by the mantra for the World Health Organisation: "A healthy nation is a productive nation."
Apollone Reid, PhD, is president and CEO of Jamaica Movement for Social Change. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org