Jamaica: Sick Hospital!

More than half of the medical and administrative services at Cornwall Regional Hospital (CRH) have now been seriously impacted by noxious fumes believed to have been triggered by a chemical leak that has been dogging the Montego Bay health facility for months.

As a result, Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton yesterday confirmed that he has requested help from the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO), which is sending three experts to help local teams deal with the problem.

The PAHO team, Tufton said in a statement, will arrive tomorrow and will join the local team from the Ministry of Health, Western Regional Health Authority (WRHA), CRH, Health Facilities Management Unit, and Environmental Solutions Limited.

“The PAHO team will consist of an environmental consultant and a toxicology consultant and they will assist the local team in assessing the source of the problem and finding an acceptable solution,” Tufton said in the statement.
Yesterday, Tufton told the Jamaica Observer that on Friday he received a preliminary report from the local environmental health experts who said that there was a theory that the problem may have originated in the X-Ray Department and that chemicals seeped into the walls and the air-conditioning ducts, contaminating sections of the building.

He said that while this theory has not yet been confirmed, samples have been taken and sent abroad for analysis.

“But I felt that, in the interest of public health, and certainly the interest of the staff and the patients who have to use the facility we needed to get the best and most prompt response on the situation, so I requested PAHO to send us some experts, and once they come in there are three approaches to the problem,” Tufton to the Sunday Observer.

“One is to determine what exactly does this odour represent, what is it, because it could determine the extent to which people interact with it; second, determine the source; and third, to neutralise it,” the health minister said.

Two weeks ago, the Observer reported the WRHA as confirming that the X-Ray system was the source of the fumes that had been seeping through the ventilation network.

According to the WRHA, it reached its conclusion after an extensive and detailed engineering probe throughout the first three floors of the hospital, which is the area affected and where all medical services are conducted.

Patient wards are on floors four to 10.

“We’re now awaiting further recommendation on how to contain the area of contamination,” the WRHA news release quoted Chief Executive Officer Anthony Smikle.

Steps are already underway to adjust the ventilation system and it is expected that the hospital services should be back to normal in another 10 to 15 days, Smikle revealed at the time.

But yesterday it became clear that Smikle was being optimistic in his projection as word reaching the Sunday Observer is that 62 per cent of the hospital’s services have been impacted with five of those services being removed from the main building.

The services that have remained have been scaled down and, in some cases, the operating hours reduced.

Yesterday, Tufton said that about 100 employees work on the affected floors.

He said that the impending effort to deal with the problem could mean significant structural changes to the building.

“This has evolved over years from, to a large extent, under-resourced facilities that have not had adequate maintenance and, frankly speaking, has caused a breakdown that is manifesting itself today,” he said. “So the plant is old and very shaky, and when you have that kind of situation where you don’t have the repeat maintenance, you’re going to have these breakdowns occurring.

“So we anticipate that any corrective action will mean major structural renovations to the plant itself, and the problem with that is that it involves down time, which would involve some level of dislocation of the services. So it means then that we’re going to have to find alternatives to deal with,” he said.

“The other side is to deal with the workers, because they are being affected, and I am very concerned that the fumes are causing rashes, certainly on staff in the affected areas,” Tufton said, adding that the health authorities have a team that is trying to sanitise the affected areas.

In relation to how patients will be affected, Tufton said: “We are trying to deal with that by managing the rescheduling… of appointments; we’re putting up some makeshift facilities on the outskirts of the hospital, some tents and so on, to deal with outpatients. We’re looking at renting facilities off site to deal with some of the other types of services.”

Added Tufton: “The section that keeps patients’ records is affected and you can’t treat patients if you don’t have access to their records. So, it is a major issue. I just want to advise the public who use the facility that it is going to create dislocation in the short to medium term and to say to them we’re doing the best we can under the circumstances by calling on the qualified persons to determine what the problem is, including the external people from PAHO, so that we can take the necessary corrective action.

“It is clearly an issue that needs attention, and my view is that we have to bring the country’s attention to it. I don’t want people to find out about this by the way. It is the right approach to tell people that this is happening.

“And frankly, it is an indication again that the infrastructure of the public health system in Jamaica is plodding because of limited capital investment in the sector over time, expanding population, much greater demand and usage, and all of that combined has made the system ripe for reform,” Tufton argued.(Jamaica Observer)

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