With “60 plus healthcare workers” among those who may have tested positive for the highly contagious COVID-19 Delta variant in recent days, the Ministry of Health has decided to scale down hospital and community health care services to minimise the spread of the deadly virus, according to the Director of Hospital Services Dr. Carol McIntosh.
“We have nurses, doctors, housekeepers, groundsmen, security, laundry, every part of the hospital department has someone positive, and are at home isolated until they can come back to work…,” she told reporters at a post-Cabinet press briefing.
“…It (the virus) has hit across all of the staff, however we continue to reach out for relief, and that puts it (the burden) onto the next colleague to do the extra that is necessary,” said the female medical director.
Dr. Mc. Intosh’s announcement came exactly one (1) week after healthcare workers were deemed COVID-19 free, by her colleague Dr. Thyiesha Donald, with reported six (6) hospitalisations and the Health Minister Nickolas Steele confirmed that it is the Delta variant that is now spreading like wildfire across the country.
Dr. McIntosh said that at present “34 beds are ready for admissions” however, she explained that in light of the upsurge in positive cases, and preparation for increased hospitalisation needs, “we have developed two (2) additional isolation wards, which will allow for a maximum capacity of 49 beds.”
“Isolation was in place with nine (9) beds but now that we have more and more admissions, we have had to enlarge, to be able to manage patients coming in…we have had to convert the lower level at the (St. George’s) General Hospital to an isolation ward,” she told reporters.
“We have had to move our Pediatric ward upstairs into another ward (to the female surgical ward, which has been moved to the female ward) and distribute our patients accordingly, so that we have the entire floor to allow for a maximum of 49 beds and if necessary we can increase,” she said.
Responding to a question posed, she confirmed reports that COVID-19 patients are housed on a ward with uninfected patients.
However, she said that these COVID-19 cases are “isolated and separated from patients who are COVID negative” and “were there until we can move them immediately into the isolation ward, and kept separate.”
Speaking to the healthcare workers’ ability to manage the situation at the hospital in light of insufficient staff, Dr. McIntosh pointed out that “we have been short-staffed before COVID.”
“So, you would have one (1) or two (2) nurses taking care of 24 to 32 patients on a ward, so they have learned to be able to multi-task. The difference now with COVID-19 positive patients is when I am going into an area where the patients are, I would put on my PPEs, do all the things that are necessary and manage with the patients,” she explained.
In addition, adjustments were also announced for the operation of the Community Nursing Department, which will also see the scaling down of services, and the merger of the Maternal and Child health service, the vaccination programme, and pharmaceutical services to minimise the potential spread of COVID-19, especially to the nation’s elderly.
Acting Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health with responsibility for Hospital and Community Health Services, Hannah Julien-St. Paul, who also addressed this week’s media brief, announced that “13 nurses within the community nursing department have also been forced into mandatory isolation after being exposed to COVID-19”.
Pointing to the statistics, which show that “84% of the people affected with COVID 19 falls between the age group of 18 to 60, and that means that is our workforce, our breadwinners, and our caregivers” she encouraged proper eating habits and warned that “if we continue to see this happening we can understand the effect it will have on our country, our homes, and our families.”
The Health Minister, Nickolas Steele stated that “at this current rate of spread (of the virus), our health system will be tested to the max”.
“I cannot think of a better team to have than the team we have right now…whatever challenges we may have this is the right team to get past it. Our nurses, doctors, administrators…we need to work together – all of our stakeholders,” he said.
During a press conference in St. George last week Wednesday, the Public Relations Officer (PRO) of the Grenada Public Workers Union (GPWU), Daisy Hazzard issued a call for the implementation of a “flexible-work policy” and told reporters, that the government has not been responding to attempts by the union to dialogue on the best way forward for workers who “have been expressing their fears to us in raw terms”.
“We are the ones who are in contact with our workers (and) they are saying to us the things that they may not tell to administrators, and supervisors,…and so, we believe that government has a responsibility to partner with the union in ensuring that we can keep public services functioning even if it’s at a reduced rate, keep our workers calm,” she said.
Hazzard also stressed the need to address the mental well-being of these workers, who are on the frontline combating the life-threatening coronavirus pandemic.
She contended that “the union is not an incidental or a coincidental stakeholder in the fight against COVID-19”.
“We are a direct stakeholder, we are the union that directly represents the workers who are on the frontline in every single category…and we have taken the onus and the responsibility to reach out to the levels of the government that we know we ought to reach out to in order to continue our dialogue in terms of how we can best protect our workers, calm their anxieties, and fears, and to date Wednesday that has not happened,” she said.