By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
HEALTH Minister Dr Duane Sands said yesterday he was “flabbergasted” to learn of doctors allegedly being threatened with non-contract renewal if they choose not to volunteer in the COVID-19 fight.
He said such threats are “not something that is consistent with the Ministry of Health”.
This comes after Bahamas Doctors Union President Dr Melisande Bassett warned in an April 11 letter sent to BDU members that doctors have been “threatened with non-contract renewal” if they choose not to volunteer to be a part of the COVID-19 response.
Noting the matter is currently under investigation, the health minister told reporters yesterday: “I can tell you that they were certainly not threatened by me and they certainly were not threatened by anybody who I have given a directive to threaten them.
“I find that principal abhorrent and it is certainly not something that is consistent with the Ministry of Health, so I’m flabbergasted by that claim and we’re investigating it.”
Other concerns highlighted by Dr Bassett are that some doctors have not received proper training in putting on and removing personal protective equipment (PPE) nor proper N-95 mask fitting.
“In addition to these concerns, some physicians have elderly parents and family members with comorbidities,” the letter continued. “These physicians have expressed that, if possible, they will assist if they are able to sequester themselves away from home for the period where they are assisting directly with positive patients.
“Since the beginning of March, the BDU has requested additional sleeping facilities to facilitate social distancing and to provide lodging for persons who wish to sequester themselves away from home. To date, the BDU has not received any official information from the minister on this. We know that this is an impediment to many wishing to volunteer.”
Dr Bassett also called for “official documentation” to back up the government’s verbal promise for “compensation and insurance benefits” for doctors or their family members, if they end up contracting the disease.
Asked by reporters yesterday on when meetings will be held to resolve these issues, the health minister replied he had met with physicians on Sunday.
He said: “On Sunday, I met with some 280 or so physicians by Zoom. The day before, I met with the physicians’ leadership. I am open, I am available and we continue to seek resolutions to any of these outstanding matters.
“This is not the time for division. This is the time for us to come together and solve problems, which is not to say that we have to hold hands and sing kumbaya, but we have a nation of people that’s counting on us and we have to be there for them.”
Earlier this month, Dr Sands revealed that five healthcare workers had tested positive for COVID-19, adding that more than 50 workers had been taken out of the healthcare system due to exposure to the deadly virus. One health care worker who tested positive for the virus, Dr Judson Eneas, died more than a week ago.
“The Ministry of Health expresses its sincere condolences to the families that have suffered this great loss,” a statement from the Ministry of Health said.
Noting there is still a need for more healthcare workers to help in the fight against the COVID-19 threat, MoH advised all physicians to notify officials “on when they will make their services available to support the country’s fight against COVID-19.”
“To facilitate this request, the general public is to be assured that all healthcare workers will be provided with proper personal protective equipment (PPE) to handle patients who are confirmed or suspected to be infected by COVID-19,” the statement added.
“To ensure that adequate numbers of PPEs are maintained, the government has already ordered additional supplies. Further, supply levels are constantly being maintained and rates of usage of PPEs are being carefully monitored.”
It continued: “…Despite economic fall out of the mandatory lockdown, the government has already committed to providing physicians with a $5,000 honorarium for those who work on the frontline of the health sector’s response.
“The government has also offered the provision of a life insurance benefit of $100,000 should a healthcare worker (contract) the COVID-19 virus and experience an untimely death.”
All national COVID-19 concerns by medical workers, MoH added, will be addressed by the National Coordination Committee (NCC).