NASSAU, BAHAMAS — At least 20 nurses in Grand Bahama called in sick yesterday as healthcare workers in COVID-19 hotspots continue to grapple with the rapid rise in infections.
This is the third protest from healthcare professionals in recent days against the backdrop of a healthcare system at its limits.
Several nurses, doctors and staff from PMH’s Accident and Emergency Department called in sick on Tuesday; and PMH lab technicians staged a walkout yesterday.
As of yesterday, the total number of cases in the country stood at 761 — with 336 of those cases on Grand Bahama.
There were just eight confirmed cases on the island when the country reopened to commercial carriers on July 1.
No new cases for the island were reported yesterday.
In an interview with Eyewitness News, one Grand Bahama nurse detailed “horrible” conditions faced by healthcare workers.
“I’ve heard the cries from the nurses that it’s just too much,” one nurse said, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“Just this week, I had a nurse sitting to the table and we were getting reports, and she started to eat and she couldn’t taste her food and we had to remove her out of the area to get swabbed.
“Like it is really hitting home and they ain’t checking. So nurses decided to call out.”
The nurse said: “The nurses are overworked, they’re burnt out, they still have insufficient supplies to work with, the PPEs are still lacking.
“It’s bad and you see our numbers. We’re working with these patients most of these patients are hospitalized and the government isn’t being honest with that, and on top of that we are working with these people with no hospital. Only the emergency room side, and the Diah Ward side is operational, the rest of the hospital was demolished.”
During a press conference yesterday, Dr Frank Bartlett, coordinator of the Grand Bahama Health Services COVID-19 Task Force, said there are five COVID-19 patients who are hospitalized.
Bartlett said challenges are also present with the manning of multiple sites, adding patients in the second wave are being hospitalized for longer periods when compared to the first wave.
The nurse continued: “Presently inside of the emergency room, we don’t have a waiting room because that’s where they have some of the suspected positive and the COVID positive, in the waiting room of the emergency room and that has been like that for two plus weeks. It’s horrible there.
“I don’t understand when the government said we only had couple hospitalized. We had 18 just in the waiting room itself in the emergency room so social distancing out the door because all we are doing is using some screens to try and create some type of privacy, because the waiting room is not supposed to be used for patients.
“We are using the little screens to try and give that patients privacy but that’s not the ideal.”
The nurse said the isolation area currently being built as an addition to the hospital will only provide seven additional beds.
Rand Memorial Hospital Administrator Sharon Williams told Eyewitness News yesterday that “weather challenges” had set the project back a few days; however, she said the team hoped to still meet the two-week deadline set before the passage of Hurricane Isaiah over the weekend.
Williams confirmed that the hospital has activated its contingency plan to call in nurses that are off duty, and to employ overtime to remediate any shortfalls.
The hospital administrator insisted there was sufficient PPEs, adding a request is submitted to Nassau when supplies get low. She suggested concerns raised over protective gear were due to distribution protocols not supply.
The nurse said: “Even in terms of our psych ward, we don’t have a psych ward anymore because the Diah Ward has now been turned into the medical surgical unit.
The nurse added: “So they are sending whoever needs to be admitted, they are sending them to Nassau so that puts yet another strain on Sandilands.”
Yesterday, the Public Hospitals Authority (PHA) confirmed 23 patients at the Sandilands Rehabilitation Centre (SRC) have tested positive for COVID-19.
The patients were on the Male Ward at the SRC, according to a statement, which indicated the patients were tested after a staff member who worked across three wards at the institution tested positive for the virus.
The Grand Bahama nurse furthered the dire working conditions further compounded fears over inadequate health insurance coverage.
The nurse said: “The government said if we contract the virus that we are not covered because they cannot say where the virus came from, if we caught it from work.
“We work in a very high risk area because we are dealing with the COVID positives and the ones that they are suspected covid so I don’t understand why you would make such a general statement.”
The nurse continued: “Our nurses insurance is the pits most of the nurses are not on it, some nurses have been trying to get on it for the past few years and have been unable to do so. So we’re not covered, you’re carrying this deadly disease to your family members.”
Union leaders representing healthcare workers across the country met with Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis and Minister of Health Renward Wells on Wednesday in a bid to find a resolution to mounting concerns.
Meanwhile, lab technicians at the Princess Margaret Hospital staged a walkout yesterday over mounting concerns that have reportedly gone unanswered.
The technicians told Eyewitness News the workers have had to fight to secure adequate personal protective equipment.
Yesterday, the PHA branded reports that there is a lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to support the thousands of healthcare workers across the country as “false and malicious”.
The PHA did not refer to a specific report or group; however, the authority pointed to its adherence to Infectious Disease protocols.
“At no time was this resource under threat and as a matter of standard operating procedures the supply levels of PPEs is closely monitored,” the PHA statement read.
“The Authority finds it regrettable that some would seek to generate false reporting which can only be designed to engender panic amongst members of the public.”