Region 3 health officer denies pensioner received expired meds

Regional Health Officer (RHO) of Region Three Dr. Ravindranauth Persaud yesterday said that the medication given to a now hospitalised Cornelia Ida pensioner was not expired and that the woman had been using the same and similar medication for over 15 years.

The RHO refuted allegations made by the husband of Elfreida Benjamin, 74, earlier this week and insisted that there was no truth in them. However, the woman’s husband and family continue to stand by their story that the woman was given expired medication at the Leonora Cottage Hospital (LCH).

George Benjamin said on Wednesday that his wife, who is a diabetic, has been visiting the LCH for about two weeks after a slight defect was observed on one of her toes. Elfreida made her last visit to the LCH two Friday ago and was given more medication. Several hours later she became “gravely ill,” George said.

The woman was rushed to the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC) last Saturday morning and was admitted to the Female Medical Ward. George said that the doctor who he spoke with that morning told him that the medication which his wife received from LCH were expired and subsequently disposed of them. The man alleged that he heard the doctor say two more times, first with her colleagues at GPHC and then on the phone with an official from Leonora, say that the medication was expired.

During her visits to the LCH Elfreida was accompanied by her husband and her son Peter Benjamin. One of the team of doctors who have been tending to his mother at the GPHC, Peter told Stabroek News yesterday, explained to them on Sunday that the woman’s condition may possibly be due to an allergic reaction to the medication she had been using. The man said that he has been unable to get further feedback from the hospital because there is no specific person responsible for treating the woman. “Is like about four doctors running that ward and they all coming to the ward at different days…so if I see one doctor one day then I was told that I wouldn’t see them again for several days,” Peter said.

The man told this newspaper that the “tiny black boils” on his mother’s body first started appearing when she began using the medication given to her by the LCH. The other symptoms such as the swelling of her face and eyes, the pain in her throat and the dried crack lips came hours after she used the last set of medication given to her by the LCH.

Since the incident, the man said, his father has made several attempts to obtain copies of Elfreida’s medical records. However, the hospital has refused to hand them over to George. Earlier this week, Peter said, his father went to the Ministry of Health to report the matter.

“They told him to go back to them today [Friday] and he went back but I am not sure if he get through,” Peter said.

In cases where members of the public have a problem with the quality of service or medication they receive at medical institutions in Region Three, the RHO Persaud said, there are several officials to whom they can make a complaint.

George, the RHO explained, could have lodged a formal complaint with him, the administrator at the LCH or the Regional Executive Officer. When such reports are made to the relevant official, he said, an investigation is launched.

Persaud further explained that the LCH has since made checks on the type of medication issued to Elfreida. The hospital, according to him, has traced the tablets down to the batch number and the bottle from which they came. It is not possible, the RHO stressed, that the medication was expired.

The medication which was given to Elfreida, he said, has a high turnover rate and often the LCH would have to make emergency orders to replenish their stock.

When informed that a doctor at GPHC had told relatives that Elfreida had an allergic reaction to the medication issued to her by the LCH, Persaud said that this was strange. The woman, according to him, has been using the same and similar medication since 1995.

Patients, he explained, will react differently to various medications and there is no way to tell who will react how to what. In cases where a patient has a violent allergy to a medication it is not the fault of the medical practitioner.

Meanwhile, Persaud noted that hospital employees cannot give a patient’s medical records to anyone, not even a spouse. The records are the property of that medical institution and are only released if an application is made on legal grounds by way of an attorney and approved by the court, Persaud said. “We cannot give those records to anyone…not even a patient’s spouse,” he stressed.

He further told this newspaper that Elfreida’s condition may be a result of other factors. There have been cases where patients use other available medication in addition to the set given to them by the hospital. This, Persaud said, can have detrimental effects.

The RHO said that up to yesterday the woman’s relatives had made to no effort to reach him. He indicated that he would make himself available to meet with them on Monday afternoon. “We are always willing to listen to the concerns of people and to assist them in any way we can,” Persaud stated.

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