By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
WITH the situation at Princess Margaret Hospital at “a boiling point”, doctors and nurses yesterday called on health officials to implement the “necessary protocols” to better protect workers amid safety concerns at the hospital about the COVID-19 threat.
Their calls for more safety measures comes as the country continues to experience a surge of COVID-19 cases, with 715 cases on record up to press time and 14 related deaths. Thirty-six new cases were reported yesterday: 20 in New Providence, 11 in Grand Bahama, three in Bimini and two in the Berry Islands.
Officials have said the recent surge of cases has started to strain the country’s health care system, with ICU beds already full.
Speaking to reporters outside PMH yesterday morning, head of the Bahamas Doctors Union Dr Melisandre Bassett said some workers have been left compromised due to overcrowding at the Accident and Emergency Department at the medical facility.
This, she said, has increased COVID-19 fears among staff, who are concerned about potentially spreading the virus to their families.
“This morning, we are at a tipping point where our staff members have become compromised because of the overwhelming number of patients with suspected COVID symptoms presenting to A&E,” she said.
“As it stands, all of our isolation rooms are occupied and as you know, with the COVID-19 case, they should be in negative pressure rooms even under investigation until that can be ruled out.”
She continued: “Now with the hurricane, we would’ve lost four standalone rooms in the legacy unit. They have yet to be opened. We need those opened up and we need additional rooms and additional spaces to account for the number of patients that we are seeing on a daily basis.
“Now, our staff is concerned and being compromised because we have those patients under investigation on the floor. So today, they have removed themselves because of the risk to themselves and their families if they contract COVID-19.”
Dr Bassett also cited the need for more personal protective equipment to help assist in the ongoing fight against the pandemic.
“Now, when you have a patient that is intubated, that requires full PPEs,” she said. “We need to ensure that all of our staff, cleaning staff and doctors have the proper equipment for that level of exposure. So that’s our concern today.”
Describing the ordeal as “an emergency situation that needs to be addressed,” the union president called on the relevant health authorities to meet with union members to address their safety concerns.
Her comments come after union officials told reporters that some staff members at PMH had called in sick yesterday morning. When The Tribune visited the hospital yesterday, several doctors and nurses were seen sitting in a secluded area near the entrance of PMH.
However, Dr Basset maintained that workers were not demonstrating, but only waiting for their concerns to be heard and addressed.
She said: “We’re still here, we’re not leaving our jobs and this is not a walk out. This is not a sick out. We want to help the Bahamian people, but we have to do it safely and sensibly.
“We’re waiting for this situation to be rectified and until that happens you can’t ask anyone to put themselves in harm’s way without the necessary protocol and safety measure in place. That’s all we’re asking.”
It is not clear how many PMH workers are currently in quarantine due to potential COVID-19 exposure, with Dr Basset only telling reporters that numbers are changing daily.
“We have teams out, we have doctors who are out,” she said. “I don’t have a specific number because it’s changing every day. The situation is at a boiling point, a tipping point, it has erupted actually. More needs to be done to correct it. “
“…We have had a whole team of three or four persons out because of one patient exposure.”
According to Bahamas Nurses Union president Amancha Williams, some 16 nurses in Grand Bahama were placed under quarantine last week. Mrs Williams said the challenges experienced by healthcare workers in New Providence are similar to those in Grand Bahama.
“Freeport have this same challenge in A&E,” she said. “Their (foyer) is full of patients, they’re triaging. . .it’s overwhelming because they have a shortage of nurses in Freeport.
“…I think about a week ago, there was 16 nurses (in) quarantine and six positives just for Grand Bahama. Here (in New Providence), we haven’t gotten a report, but we know that several nurses are quarantine and like we said in Nassau, we have not been testing.
“And the nurses here are saying ‘you’re putting me in harm’s way and you still don’t want to test me. You only want to test the patient. I work with the patient so test all of us.’”
Bahamas Public Services Union (BPSU) president Kimsley Ferguson also echoed similar concerns yesterday, calling for officials to put a plan in place to help workers safeguard against the virus.
He said: “There are some persons apart of our bargaining unit that are impacted by what is going on and we’re very very concerned because while there may appear to be one unit that is extremely significant, those persons that we do represent - patient care attendants, the actual patient relation persons….those that have to do the sanitising and so on and so forth.
“And we’re really concerned that there is no information disseminated to the various staff so they themselves can mitigate against the actual spread of COVID-19 in the workplace.”
Several calls were made to Health Minister Renward Wells but attempts to reach him were unsuccessful up to press time. Meanwhile, when contacted, an official at the Public Hospitals Authority said a statement would be released on the concerns.