Improving health care tough, but it must be doneMonday, October 04, 2021
A cry from a patient at Cornwall Regional Hospital in yesterday's Sunday Observer tugs at the heart.
“To be poor is really a crime,” the man reportedly said as he complained bitterly about conditions at the 10-storey, 400-bed public hospital at which extensive renovation originally scheduled to end last year remains far from complete.
Obviously, the COVID-19 crisis has made an already bad situation much worse, not just at Cornwall Regional but in every area of Jamaica's under-resourced public health sector.
Currently renovation of the main building at Cornwall Regional has forced the use of plastic tents as well as facilities for health care workers to accommodate patient care.
Conditions under the tents are described as uncomfortably hot and oppressive, and lengthy waiting times seem well nigh intolerable.
We expect that whenever the repair project at Cornwall Regional is completed the situation will improve significantly there.
Also, Dr Delroy Fray, clinical coordinator at Cornwall Regional, reminds us that things will improve there and elsewhere if the downward trend of the last two weeks in the number of COVID-19 cases and admissions can be sustained. That, of course, would free up beds.
COVID-19 admissions at Cornwall Regional had dropped by 50 per cent over the two weeks, he said, while voicing hope that single-digit admissions will be achieved soon. This, he suggested, will happen if people follow protocols to protect themselves from the novel coronavirus and also get vaccinated.
His advice for the hesitant to stop listening to nonsense and take the vaccine needs to be repeated in hill and valley, everywhere.
But Jamaicans also know that even after COVID-19 has been contained to the stage at which it won't be considered a crisis — hopefully sometime in the not-too-distant future — some of what was described in yesterday's Sunday Observer report will remain, even if to a lesser degree.
We shouldn't forget that complaints from patients — often very poor people — about poor conditions at hospitals, health-care centres, and the like, are not new.
In fact, complaints about that, as well as perceived 'don't care' attitudes by health- care staff, motivated Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton's forward-thinking Compassionate Care Programme which started a few years ago. That, like much else, has been, we suspect, pushed to the back burner by COVID-19.
That programme sought to improve not just medical treatment in the public health system but, very importantly, “customer care” through a show of greater empathy, understanding, and appreciation from staff for their patients. Allied to that was improvement of infrastructure, including making waiting areas more welcoming with comfortable chairs, air conditioning, television, and the like.
Post-COVID-19, getting back to such programmes will be very important in healing the sick.
But, of course, an elephant in the room is low wages and other disincentives for health-care staff.
Compassionate care becomes much more difficult when staff members are disgruntled and demotivated. Indeed, the ongoing migration of well-trained but disgruntled Jamaican nurses and health-care specialists to greener pastures demonstrates the problem.
Jamaicans and their leaders must gear for a tough task ahead to transform the health sector.