BY DONNA HUSSEY-WHYTE Sunday Observer staff reporter email@example.com
SHORTER waiting times at the Mandeville Regional Hospital (MRH) Accident & Emergency (A&E) outpatient department are still a dream for patients and management at the facility, but Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Alwyn Miller, has said he expects changes for the better in the upcoming financial year.
"There is no change yet," Miller admitted last Wednesday when the Jamaica Observer visited the hospital as a follow-up to the paper's exposé last October, which revealed that patients had to endure, on average, over six hours waiting time before they were seen by a doctor.
"This financial year has not yet been completed. So, hopefully, in the next financial year we will see some changes," Miller said.
Last year, on this paper's first undercover visit to the facility, angry patients complained they had been waiting for several hours to be attended to. Some had already visited the institution the day before the Observer's visit and had done blood tests, ultra-sound tests, and X-rays, and were being forced to spend a second day sitting on hard benches in the hospital, results in hand, waiting to see a doctor.
The tedious process was experienced first hand by this reporter, who spent 6 1/2 hours being processed through the admissions system, only to be told that I would need to return the next day because the ultrasound department had closed by the time I got there to do a required test.
Last week's follow-up visit was again characterised by patients' complaints about the long wait. At least one of those who spoke to the Observer, was however, optimistic that things would soon change for the better.
"They soon start charging for hospital visit and things will be better. I bet when wi start pay wi money they will treat us better," a woman in her 40's declared. "New government take over now so they soon reverse the free health care system."
"Nothing not going to change," countered another woman who was waiting with two children, one eight and the other five years old. "They just don't care 'bout people, so even if you have to pay, you won't get better treatment. The only thing is that I will spend my money with private doctor 'cause I won't have to wait so long."
She said she had been at the institution with her children from just before 11o'clock that morning and was still waiting to be told what to do next although three hours had passed.
She explained that one child had to be taken out of school for vomiting and a stomach ache and the younger had woken up that morning with similar symptoms.
"I went in the (triage) room when mi come and tell the doctor what was wrong with the children and all they did was tell me to come sit down back with them," she said impatiently at around 2:30 pm.
When asked about the fact that there had been very little change in the situation some six months after the problem was highlighted in the press, Miller said, "The waiting period is hardly going to change unless you have more doctors."
He explained that even in more developed countries like the United States, patients seeking medical care have to wait some six to eight hours before being attended to.
"Because what will happen is that the more urgent (cases) will be seen first," Miller reiterated.
He insisted that the hospital is trying to do more to improve its services and repeated his earlier appeal for persons with minor ailments such as rashes, colds, minor aches and pains, etc, to seek help at the health centre instead of coming to the hospital.
"Persons with those ailments really need to go to the health centre for primary care. That would reduce the number of persons coming to the A&E department and add to the efficiency of the hospital," he said.
However, while admitting there has not been any reduction in wait times for patients, Miller said efforts are being made to improve the A&E services at the hospital.
"The Mandeville Regional Hospital remains committed to elevating the services to the public, and recognises the co-operation and contribution of the wider community in making it a reality," Miller said, explaining that this was part of a five-year plan.
He pointed towards improvements that have been made over recent months. This includes the provision of customer service training for some 180 hospital employees with the assistance of HEART/NTA.
"There are ongoing efforts to strengthen the triage and security systems to improve the processing of patients, protecting the safety of staff and clients alike," the CEO said. "The hospital wishes to remind the public that concerns/recommendations can be channelled through its Patient Affairs Officers, to effect resolution."
A sign in the A&E department which reads 'Help us to help you' now directs persons to a complaint officer's number to call for emergency assistance while they wait.
Also, the administration solicited furniture and equipment specifically for the A&E department from civic organisations and donor agencies. Ten patient stretchers and other medical sundries from Food for the Poor were received.
"Right now we have 23 persons out there on stretchers," Miller pointed out. "Before we only had 16 stretchers, so with the additional 10, we now have 26."
An Electrocardiogram (ECG) machine and vital signs monitor has been donated by the Manchester Wellness Foundation for a minor Cardiac Unit at the A&E which will aid in responding to patients suspected of having a cardiac arrest. This was done from the proceeds of the Foundation's annual fundraising walk-a-thon.
The Lions Club of Mandeville donated $600,000 of the proceeds of its annual Men who Cook fundraiser to procure a second ECG Machine and vital signs monitor for the unit, along with medical sundries estimated at $2 million.
An ultrasound machine was donated by the Jah Jah Foundation of New Jersey, USA, through its principals Dr Trevor Dixon, Orlando Dillion and Lyndon Williams, to aid in emergency diagnosis of patients.
The A&E department is also expected to get additional stretchers and nebulisers from the Manchester Wellness Foundation from their upcoming Walk-a-thon on April 14, to be held in Mandeville.
"We extend an invitation on behalf of the Foundation to the citizens of Mandeville to give their support to this worthy cause," Miller urged.
Construction on 'Block J', the hospital's newest wing was completed as announced, in December last year, but is still waiting to be fully equipped, but plans are for it to be up and running in another month. This will add another 20 medical beds for patients needing hospitalisation. Presently there is a shortage of beds with only 30 such beds on the wards. A nursery was also built to accommodate 15 additional cots, the hospital presently only has 10.
Conditions at the Mandeville Regional Hospital were highlighted more than once last year, including when the Sunday Observer published the story of an ailing woman who was placed on a blood-soaked gurney on her admittance to the facility last October. More recently, this paper printed a story about a woman who gave birth while in the process of moving from a motor vehicle to a wheelchair at the facility after waiting an extended period for medical attention.
The Mandeville Regional Hospital provides secondary health care services to an estimated population of some 600,000 persons spanning the parishes of Manchester, Clarendon, St Elizabeth, Southern Trelawny, St Ann and Westmoreland. It is the referral hospital for the Southern Region and accepts patients from both public facilities and private practitioners within the southern region.