By FARRAH JOHNSON
Tribune Staff Reporter
BAHAMAS Nurses Union president Amancha Williams said some nurses are burnt out and discouraged from volunteering their services due to the way health officials are organising the country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mrs Williams said nurses are willing to work, but are tired of the way they have been treated during the course of the outbreak.
Her statement came days after several doctors, nurses and technicians at Princess Margaret Hospital walked off the job due to COVID-19 safety concerns.
And last week, health officials confirmed 23 people at the Sandilands Rehabilitation Centre (SRC) had tested positive for COVID-19. Mrs Williams first broke the news about the SRC cases to a local media outlet hours before health officials made the announcement. According to the Public Hospitals Authority, the patients at SRC’s male ward caught the disease after a staff member who worked across three wards at the institution tested positive for the virus.
While Mrs Williams could not say if more people at SRC or in one of the hospitals have tested positive for the virus in recent days, she said those who took the test since the new cases were announced are expected to get their results sometime this week.
When asked if there was heightened anxiety among patients and staff due to the new cases, she added: “I think that the only anxiety comes when the staff is not aware of the policy that is implemented by the institution and the institution does not state their policy.”
Mrs Williams said there was a lack of information regarding the protocol of employee health and what would happen if a worker got exposed to the virus.
“The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention and World Health Organisation is a guideline, but what policy your institution wants the nurses, doctors or any ally healthcare work to follow is really important in disseminating the information to your staff on what is the guideline and the policy that you’re going to implement in your institution,” she said.
“Persons need to know the steps and they need to be familiarised so they wouldn’t have any doubt in their mind. Information removes doubt and adds concrete and sound information.”
Mrs Williams insisted this was needed so people did not have to “guess” if and when the institution they were working at was going to test them and the reason behind the test in the first place.
“Another challenge that just recently came up that I received a call from the prime minister about, is the fact that he is saying he does not have any volunteers to work in a particular area,” she continued.
“They have a group of nurses that are presently working in the area right now, but these nurses are being overworked and they’re burnt out.”
Mrs Williams said Dr Minnis asked the union and the “relevant person” to attend a meeting to discuss ways they could move forward to ensure nurses are able to work in the particular area.
Still, she said the “relevant person” said they did not have the authority to attend the meeting so it never took place.
“So what we’re having now is that nurses out of the clear blue are told to report to the emergency room and they will get their mandate on where they’re going to be working then. So they’re pulling the nurse that’s working in the regular ward out and putting them over to a particular area without any notice. Most of them just had a day’s notice.”
Mrs Williams said one of the reasons nurses aren’t willing to volunteer is because in March, a nurse from SRC rendered her services as a volunteer to PMH during the first surge of COVID-19 but was never paid overtime.
“It was said in the meeting with the prime minister it was a glitch in the Acustaff system that caused the nurse not to get paid. So a group of them were discouraged so now they are not volunteering their service to come to PMH,” she explained.
“Another grouping worked a shift the Nurses Union disagreed with, that should never be implemented in an institution. The world system also states that this shift is a slavery shift that will cause the nurse to be burnt out, sickened and easily prone to making mistakes and become overwhelmed, which can cause them to make poor decisions in managing critical patients. They chose that system and they burnt out the nurses so now they are just trying to recover.
“The nurses want to work but they’re tired of how they are being treated,” she said. “Can you imagine spending two weeks in a ward with no air condition? The majority of the air condition is not working, not even in SRC.
“...We say to our minister, you come in to bring peace, solve issues and bring about unity. You did not come to spark a war or fight because the healthcare system does not need wars. What we need is a man with vision and a heart that is governed by God.”
During a Ministry of Health press conference on Friday, newly appointed Health Minister Renward Wells said health officials have met with the nurses and doctors union as well as the Consultant Physician Staff Association.
He said they have all agreed to “meet regularly and clarify channels of communication” to ensure all of the appropriate personal protective equipment is available for all medical workers to carry out their duties safely.
“As a government, we are doing what is necessary to improve your environments to ensure that you are safe,” he said. “The supplies are there. It is imperative, therefore, these supplies get to the frontline in sufficient numbers so that every member of the health team is safe. We understand your reservations and fears. That is why we have responded by locating a place for you to quarantine, self-isolate, or simply to rest away from your families to ensure your families’ safety. The government, by our actions, is committed to ensure the safety of all of our workers on the frontline. We implore you to always use universal precautions to engender safe environments for yourselves and your patients,” he said.