Doctors in the dark

Lack of information on Cornwall Regional Hospital from Tufton, oversight committee irks consultants, junior doctors

BY HG HELPS
Editor-at-Large
helpsh@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, August 18, 2019

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THE heads of two of Jamaica's organisations that represent doctors at different levels say they are not being told by Minister of Health and Wellness Dr Chris Tufton, or the Cornwall Regional Hospital Oversight Committee about the status of the Montego Bay-based medical facility.

The Type 'A', 400-bed Cornwall Regional Hospital was placed under the public microscope last year when mysterious toxic fumes began affecting medical staff and patients at the institution, and further structural and equipment challenges were also thrown into the mix, forcing Dr Tufton to, among other things, appoint the five-member committee, chaired by retired principal of the Mona Campus of the University of The West Indies and consultant surgeon, Professor Archie McDonald, in May of last year, to look at rehabilitative measures for the ailing facility.

Dr Konrad Lawson, president of the Association of General Medical Consultants (AGMC), and Dr Elon Thompson, who heads the more populous Jamaica Medical Doctors Association (JMDA), are chanting that they have been left ignorant about what is going on with the redevelopment of the regional hospital, and they are concerned about it.

“He [Dr Tufton] has not asked my opinion on anything that has taken place at Cornwall Regional Hospital as the AGMC president. The acting SMO [senior medical officer] down there organised for the AGMC to come down and look to see what is going on. But when the minister is organising things, we read about it in the newspaper, and the MAJ [Medical Association of Jamaica] president is invited and the JMDA gets invited from time to time, and we read and hear about it after the fact,” Dr Lawson stated.

“And I can tell you that the JMDA has not been invited for a long while,” interjected Dr Thompson, who along with his colleague, was being interviewed by the Jamaica Observer during a sitting of the Observer Press Club last Wednesday.

“Since the committee has been formed,” Dr Thompson continued, “headed by Professor McDonald, to do the project we have not been invited to a meeting for an update. The JMDA as an organisation has not received any communication from the committee. I know the committee doesn't report to us; I am sure they report to the minister. But the minister or the Ministry of Health has said nothing to us. My problem is that the members are crying out. Staff morale is at an all-time low at that institution because persons have been placed all over the place and they are no longer together. So they have been put at Falmouth, they have been put at the various private clinics, and it has caused a problem with staff morale.

“The emergency room and how close the patients are kept together is still an issue. Patients still are uncertain if they are going to receive care at the institution. What we want is a report now as to what the update is on the hospital. Is the hospital going to be rebuilt, is it just going to be renovated?” Dr Thompson asked.

For Dr Lawson, any form of timeline would be appreciated, because, according to him, the AGMD has to plan. “It affects us because when the Cornwall Regional Hospital is closed a lot of the burden gets placed elsewhere; patients have to be treated and managed elsewhere — and a lot of them get sent out to outlying hospitals. Some of them, not as much now as before, get transferred to KPH [Kingston Public Hospital]. In the earlier days we took quite a number [of patients.] But nowadays I think they have made some arrangement and the hospital is partially working at some level, and they opened up Falmouth and are doing more things from a surgical point of view there.”

The back and forth by doctors is something that concerns the JMDA president.

“Persons have to drive from Cornwall Regional to Falmouth, do rounds there, operate on patients there, and then they have to come back to Montego Bay,” he mentioned.

“And that includes consultants, by the way,” Lawson intervened. “So they have to leave and go to the other institution as part of their responsibility. And they have to go next door to the clinics as well,” Dr Lawson went on.

Dr Thompson said that some of the doctors who were originally placed at the 10-storey Cornwall Regional Hospital now have to travel to as far as Savanna-la-Mar because of the displacement.

The issue, Dr Thompson emphasised, is not so much whether or not the doctors are being remunerated, but it is more a question of the “this up and down that they never bargained for in the first place, and now they are all over the place”.

“It's not only that they don't bargain for it — It's that it affects the delivery of the care in terms of the quality of care. When you have to be driving this distance you can meet in accidents, you are increasing the mileage on your car, etc,” Dr Lawson underlined.

Dr Thompson said that sometimes the doctors whom he represents would find themselves operating on patients at other hospitals in the western region, only for them to find out that complications may arise and the medical personnel, who would have returned to their base in Montego Bay, would have to drive all the way back to that institution, through state of emergency and ZOZO checkpoints, which often proves frustrating.

“Adjusting to these kinds of crisis for senior doctors ... it is easy, but for a young intern trained at UHWI [University Hospital of the West Indies] and KPH who sees everything together is one place, when they come to Cornwall they are not expecting this kind of displacement and confusion that exists. And the time that has elapsed from this problem occurred, I really think that a good solution could have been obtained so far. A swift decision needed to have been made.”

The junior doctors are more concerned about the to and fro, while the consultants, who also have to be up and down, are a little more adjustable.

“At the end of the day, I don't recall any of the senior doctors there complaining about doing these things. They say they wish it didn't have to happen, but if that is what it takes to do the work, they do it. We don't complain,” Dr Lawson said. “We have all been through it as junior doctors ourselves.”

For Dr Thompson, the situation at Cornwall Regional Hospital not only requires action, and more communication but some pertinent questions need to be asked about all that has gone on.

“We are going to need checks and balances at some point. How much money has been spent since this crisis has started? The Ministry of Health will have to account for that. Could this money have been used to construct a new building? That will have to be looked at because I am aware that there has been a lot of money spent. We don't need a Cornwall Hospital probe. We just need the ministry to come clean, let the public know how much money has been spent so far on all of the outsourcing and the construction that has taken place, and look at it and see if they could have just used the money or a part of it to construct a new hospital. We need an update because it is just unreasonable what is happening to patients there, and the staff.

“We haven't got any further complaints about any toxic fumes, thankfully, so that problem has been seemingly rectified. That is one good thing. But a lot of time has elapsed and something should have been implemented. So staff frustration is still very high down there, and we need to know what is happening,” the JMDA president stated.

The initial rehabilitation budget for the institution was set at $3.5 billion, with work expected to be completed by year end.

Last May, Professor McDonald was quoted by State media agency, Jamaica Information Service as reminding the public that the hospital was still open for business, though some services had been reduced due to the rehabilitation work.

“The tower (main building) is closed, but services continue around that tower. A number of buildings were converted into clinical space and a number of temporary structures have been constructed over the past year or so,” Professor McDonald was quoted as saying.

“A lot of planning has been going on, led by the Ministry of Health and various consultants who have just about completed their work. An architect was appointed and is now on board, and is leading the charge. Work on the roof of the tower has commenced. That is where the bulk of the problem is because that is the main reason the water got in the building, which is why we got the mould.

“This is not a rush job; we had to contract the appropriate personnel. We are asking that persons, particularly in western Jamaica, be patient with us, as in the coming months they will see a lot more work taking place, and soon Cornwall Regional will be fully restored and better than it was before,” Professor McDonald was quoted by the agency as saying.

The other members of the oversight committee of the multidisciplinary institution are president of the St James Lay Magistrates' Association Claudette Bryan; architect Errol Alberga; veteran chemist, Professor Ishenkumba Kahwa; and civil engineer Earl Richards.


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