Nurses avoid Jamaica
Former health-care workers now in USA detail horror stories about working at homeSunday, May 09, 2021
BY KIMONE FRANCIS
“JAMAICA will never benefit from my services again, never.”
Those are the words of Sade Williams, a 35-year-old registered nurse who immigrated to the United States in 2018 after working five years in the public health system at the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI).
The alleged horrors experienced at the Type A facility by the woman who now lives and works in Atlanta, Georgia, coupled with “the constant disrespect of nurses”, have left a bitter taste in her mouth.
At first opportunity she fled the country with the desire for a higher standard of living in mind.
“Before I go back and give my services to Jamaica as an ICU (intensive care unit) nurse I'd retire and work at a Walmart. That is how strongly I feel about the treatment of nurses in Jamaica,” said Williams in an interview with the Jamaica Observer on Friday.
Her comments came as public discourse grows about brain drain following the Government's latest offer of a 2.5 per cent wage increase to public sector workers for the 2021/2022 fiscal year.
Nurses rank high among professionals who opt to leave the country for favourable professional opportunities elsewhere.
Only last month, Prime Minister Andrew Holness said that the Government remains committed to taking steps to boost the complement of nurses in the public health system as it moves to address the shortage of personnel largely as a result of attrition.
Holness said that the steps include the continued pursuit of bilateral arrangements and bolstering the availability of training opportunities and resources for locals.
But Williams and several of her colleagues who also spoke with the Sunday Observer remain adamant that nurses are undervalued in Jamaica, where the health sector is desperate for manpower and resources.
“The level of disrespect shown to nurses, not just by patients but by management and persons who are supposed to be in your corner advocating for you, is unreal. The environment for nurses in Jamaica is very toxic, and the salary is a joke. I honestly had to take myself away from it. If it wasn't the US it would be somewhere else, but definitely not Jamaica,” she told the Sunday Observer.
“Nurses are not respected in Jamaica and we're the backbone of the health system. Over here if I spend five minutes over my shift time I get fully paid for those five minutes. In Jamaica I found myself leaving hours after my shift ended and I was not given a dollar more. You get $60,000 a month and Students' Loan [Bureau] a tell you seh dem want $45,000. What are you supposed to live off? I remembered the health minister going to Switzerland to stop the recruitment of nurses, but at the same time couldn't pay us. How ridiculous? I had to leave,” she stressed.
“I don't know of any nurse who has left Jamaica and is struggling. We all have houses. I drove a 2019 car when I moved here in 2018. In Jamaica, I was walking. I was struggling. The final straw was when I went to NHT [National Housing Trust] and they told me that my salary couldn't give me a house. Now, I can afford to take a vacation every year. They like to say, 'Oh, we don't have any nurse and the whole a dem a go a foreign.' What did you expect? If you treat people a certain type of way, of course they are going to leave. My advice to nurses out there is to do your NCLEP [Nurses' College-Level Examination Program] and leave,” Williams added.
Frustration, too, forced Kemisha Banton onto a plane for Texas after the 30-year-old was reportedly denied the opportunity to further her studies which, ultimately, would result in her earning more.
The neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) nurse is also of the view that there is little regard for nurses here.
“I remember being in NICU and there was a mom there, her baby had pulled out the feeding tube but we were in the middle of resuscitating another baby so we couldn't stop to assist. We told her that it was okay because the baby wasn't feeding at the time, so when we can we would put it back in place. She began behaving vulgar and was just plain disrespectful — all while we're in the process of trying to bring another baby back to life. We were in the process of CPR. We were short-staffed and it was about priority,” Banton said, adding that that experience was one of many that sent her packing.
She shared, too, that long hours with little to no compensation made her decision to leave easier. Banton, who spent four years at UHWI, said she was working between 76 and 80 hours per week to assist her family.
“I had to work those hours to earn a little more because I was constantly being denied the opportunity to go and do my course so that I could earn my full incentive. It was constantly someone migrating or someone getting pregnant so I was asked to fill those gaps instead of them getting additional staff. It became too much and it was excuses after excuses so I left. It was a big risk, but I took it. I had to leave what I considered to be a poisonous environment,” the nurse said, noting that once she left she was allowed to enrol and complete several courses which made her more marketable.
She has since moved to Florida.
Working conditions at Bustamante Hospital for Children and Kingston Public Hospital (KPH), along with low pay, were the driving forces behind Ziska Arnold's departure for Texas.
The 35-year-old had been working as a nurse since 2009 and left Jamaica in 2016.
She said during her time at both hospitals there was no support from the management team and no room for professional development.
“I experienced that, and so when I got the opportunity to leave I didn't hesitate,” said Arnold.
She told the Sunday Observer that, while she is not averse to returning to Jamaica to work, she is not keen on returning to the public sector.
“The working condition is absolutely horrible. There was a major bed issue. People were sitting down on chairs, there was no privacy, and then you would have their relatives disrespect you as a result of that. The patient ratio was something else. It was absolutely horrible. I remember I was on the orthopaedic ward and it was me alone with a ward assistant and 29 patients, and they were bedridden. What could I do? What quality patient care could I give? You also had to deal with a lack of resources — something as basic as Panadol you didn't have or even syringes,” Arnold, a 'travel nurse' recalled.
“Here [US] the resources are in abundance. They don't allow you to run out of anything. Also, there is an opportunity for growth. You get to go and do your programmes and your courses. Nobody limits you or tells you that you have to work a particular shift. They are flexible to the point where management could be a little bit tighter,” added Arnold, who has worked in California and Georgia since relocating.
“When you compare nurses in Jamaica, and nurses here you realise that the ones who leave achieve quicker in terms of professional development and in terms of their personal life — like buying a house. I closed on my house in January. It takes nurses a little bit longer in Jamaica and when they do buy a house it's not necessarily what they want. My nurse friends who are here are also closing on houses. So, overall, it's just better and more beneficial to be here,” she ended.
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