Nurses threaten to take industrial action

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By Shermain Bique-Charles

[email protected]

The challenges posed by treating Covid-19 patients at the Mount St John’s Medical Centre (MSJMC) could push a number of nurses to strike.

When the executive of the Antigua & Barbuda Nurses Association (ABNA) meets with its members, possibly today or Friday, they are set to vote on the next course of action; a move they contend is driven by inadequate staffing, a lack of appreciation for their service, and insufficient remuneration.

An obviously irate president of ABNA, Soria Dupie-Winston told Observer yesterday that “enough is enough”.

She lamented that her members, and even those who are not part of the association, have been complaining about overworking, lack of proper equipment and a careless attitude from their management.

Dupie-Winston agreed that nurses and doctors are the backbone of the health care system in Antigua and Barbuda and any form of action they take could exacerbate an already terrible situation.

However, she said the time is ripe to send a clear message to those at the “top”, that nurses cannot continue to be treated like robots.

“I am particularly concerned about the workers at the MSJMC,” she said. “It seems management isn’t mindful, or they don’t seem to care, about the welfare of the nurses. The [nurses] association distributed vitamins for nurses since December; to date there has been no report that management has done anything for them.”

Dupie-Winston said that both the mental and physical states of nurses are also being ignored.

Another bone of contention is the $1,000 honorarium promised to nurses who work directly with Covid-19 patients.

In a letter issued to the nurses on Monday, the management of the hospital said they had started processing these payments.

However, the communique stated that in order for the nurses to receive the full monthly allowance of $1,000, the criteria mandates that a nurse must work a minimum of four 32-hour shifts of taking care of Covid-19 patients.

It clearly stated that if the employees worked only eight hours, they will be paid $250.

However, Dupie-Winston, who also heads the coronavirus contact tracing team, is demanding proper remuneration from the government.

“Now that they are supposed to be getting the $1,000, one nurse is getting two hundred, another getting eight, and another is getting five hundred. This is preposterous. The nurses leave their families every day and go out there and sacrifice to ensure that they take care of these sick patients, and now to be insulted this way. No one ever asked them ‘are you okay?’” she stated.

“This year, several frontline workers have been affected by the virus, what is the management doing about it? They have not been doing anything and we are saying it’s time that the management of MSJMC recognise the pivotal role we play. We demand proper remuneration. This is not right; we will be taking action.

“Nurses have been working fearlessly and tirelessly. We demand that they treat our nurses better. We are in the second wave of the pandemic [and] we will be forced to do what we have to do. We are tired of the insults [and] the injustice to our health care workers and it is time that it stops. We are the ones in the fire. We are the ones feeling it. We are the ones who go home physically and mentally exhausted,” Dupie-Winston said.

All our calls to the Medical Director of the MSJMC Dr Albert Duncan went unanswered, as well as those to the Minister of Health who was in Cabinet.

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