By DANA SMITH
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE Grand Bahama Emergency Medical Service personnel who staged a sick-out last Friday will be immediately suspended, subject to a pay-cut and could face subsequent termination, according to Labour Minister Shane Gibson.
On Friday, reliable sources informed The Tribune that none of the 35 EMS workers at Freeport’s Rand Memorial Hospital reported for work – severely affecting the department and critical ambulance services.
Later, the Public Hospital Authority (PHA) confirmed in a press release the EMS sick-out had forced them to activate their emergency response plan and medical staff from other areas of Grand Bahama and New Providence were dispatched to fill-in for the staff who were out sick for the 4pm and 8pm shifts.
Speaking yesterday, Mr Gibson said “quite a number” of ambulance drivers did not report to work on Friday after apparently writing to Health Minister Perry Gomez the day before with various labour issues.
Because Dr Gomez did not respond within 24 hours, he said, they “decided not to show up to work.”
“Which, of course, placed a number of lives in jeopardy,” Mr Gibson continued. “Persons who would have needed emergency assistance in Grand Bahama would not have been able to receive it and I guess the idea was for them to hold the entire island hostage.”
The PHA had to resort to their contingency plan, he said, which included sending six EMS personnel from Nassau, two Defence Force officers stationed in Grand Bahama and two additional Defence Force officers stationed in Nassau to fill in for the missing workers.
“They were able to put the operation back to normal, very quickly,” Mr Gibson said. “(But) of course they’re not taking very lightly what was done. Particularly since we don’t know how many lives could have actually been affected and persons could have actually died as a result of not being able for receive ambulance service.”
Speaking on disciplinary action for the EMS workers, he said: “I believe the idea – it was that all those persons would be suspended immediately and their pay is cut and then the PHA would make a decision as to whether or not their employment will continue. Obviously you don’t need those type of persons on the job. You have lots of individuals who want to work, who want to show up.”
Mr Gibson added that although workers have “concerns from time to time,” when dealing with “essential services” – in this ambulances – “you want to make sure you minimize having any interruption in service.
“So I believe,” he said, “the position they have taken is to suspend those individuals immediately and then make a decision subsequently as to whether or not their employment will continue.”
In their letter, the EMS staff complained that their dispatch centre is understaffed, they are in need of proper safety equipment and they are in need of health insurance (apart from National Insurance). They are also asking for their fleet of ambulances to be expanded and decentralised and for more staff to be trained more frequently, among other things.
“It is disheartening that in the hopes of being an advocate for Grand Bahamians we feel that our only hope of the Authority providing a safe environment for us and one that is conducive to the best practice of patient care is by withholding care from the patients themselves,” the letter said.
In their press release, the PHA revealed they have already met two of the staff’s demands, as new ambulances have already been ordered and reassigned and several EMS staff have recently received training.
Bahamas Public Services Union president John Pinder also said Saturday the PHA has agreed to bring a resolution to all the issues outlined and his union and PHA representatives have come to the table to negotiate a quick end.
He said the staff is entitled to sick days and their action was not illegal, but the union was notified “some people will be disciplined.”