By Elesha George
The prospects for lessening Covid-19 infections continue to be a challenge for the government which must now face the consistent rise in hospitalisations, the threat of protest by frontline workers and its inability to monitor those exposed to the virus 100 percent of the time.
Earlier this week, the Director at the Mount St John’s Medical Centre (MSJMC) said that the hospital is under more pressure than at any other time since the start of the pandemic.
He acknowledged the shortage in human resource at the hospital, noting that some healthcare workers have themselves become ill.
For months, Soria Dupie-Winston, the president of the Antigua and Barbuda Nurses Association (ABNA) has attempted to get the government’s attention, regarding the protection of her nurses and other frontline workers at the hospital.
One of the more publicised concerns was that nurses were not receiving a promised $1,000 monthly honorarium for their work with Covid patients.
On Thursday, the government said it would scrap the criteria that required nurses to work a minimum of 32 hours with a Covid patient, in order to qualify for that monthly honorarium. Orderlies and technicians will also be eligible for this pay incentive.
The move came a day after nurses threatened to strike, and on the same day that staff at the Emergency Room (ER) staged a sickout, sending a clear message of their dissatisfaction with how they are being treated.
However, Dupie-Winston said, “The money was the least of it.”
She bemoaned the response of the management at the hospital, saying that once again, they had insulted the intelligence of the frontline workers.
“While I appreciate that they recognised that an error was made as it relates to the honorarium, and I am also happy that other categories of staff, who are so rightly deserving, should get the honorarium, and I hope the lab technicians are also included in that, the management team has yet failed again, to see the bigger picture here, and yet again, they have insulted the intelligence of this nurse as well as the others of Mount St John’s,” she told Observer.
The association’s president said her discourse was never solely based on the money, but focused on better care and greater concern for the frontline workers who work long hours in a volatile situation at the hospital.
She said that these workers have not had proper protective equipment like face shields to protect their eyes, protective gowns, and a sufficient supply of N-95 masks – a medical grade mask recommended for use by frontline workers.
“The staff at the emergency room who deal with patients coming in, coughing and sneezing – possibly Covid patients – five masks per week, one per day for an entire 8 hour or more shift and the mask is not even the proper quality mask. They should be using the N-95 masks which gives them full protection.
“The money was the least of it. I would not be so emotional just about money. I’ve been working with this Covid thing from the inception,” she remarked.
She continued that “The staff at the out-patient department have been asking for a handwashing sink since last year, at the start of this pandemic, to date, there is no sink” … “I was told, for almost a year, there’s an invoice for a simple handwashing sink that the staff have been asking for.”
Her service, she said, and that of many others, was never based on the offer of an honorarium, noting “I did it before money was ever placed on the table.”
Thinking back on a meeting with the Health Minister Sir Molwyn Joseph on Thursday, the association’s president said, she was told that some of their concerns could be rectified if the proper management system was put in place.
“We are told that there is no shortage on N-95 masks because investigations were done. So, why is it that our frontline workers, those in the ER especially, are not receiving N-95 masks to work with to give them protection,” she said.
Dupie-Winston is therefore insisting that the hospital’s management meet with these workers to better understand their gravest concerns and to properly address them.
“Thanks to the Minister for meeting with us, yes, thanks for his input in the whole matter, but we still want to see some change being made. The management structure, in our opinion, as a collective body needs some revamping at the Mount St John’s Medical Centre, and we are hoping that this can be done and can be done soonest,” she said, remarking that “The management team is stuck in their bubble in their offices, but the frontline workers are the ones who are braving this pandemic.”
In response, Salma Crump, head of marketing and communications at the MSJMC said the hospital has always been open to meet with its staff whether through various associations or unions.
Crump said that while she doesn’t know of the specific issue concerning the sink in the out-patient department, the hospital has increased the number of sanitation stations in light of the pandemic.