Cornelia Ida pensioner Elfreida Benjamin died last Thursday, almost two weeks since she was hospitalised after using expired medication allegedly given to her at the Leonora Cottage Hospital (LCH).
The woman, 74, was admitted to the Georgetown Public Hospital (GPHC) on March 26, a day after she was allegedly given the expired drugs and her family is now calling on the Ministry of Health (MoH) to launch an investigation into the case.
A member of the team of doctors who had been tending to the woman at the GPHC told her family that the woman’s condition may have possibly been due to an allergic reaction to the medication she had been using. “I am not going to let this matter drop just like this… I am a citizen of the country and I deserve to be treated fairly. I know that is not my wife sickness alone kill her. The expired medication they give her start the whole thing,” Elfreida’s husband, George Benjamin, 84, said yesterday.
Over the last two weeks, he has been travelling back and forth between his Cornelia Ida, West Coast Demerara home and the GPHC. The man has made several attempts to speak with Minister of Health Dr. Leslie Ramsammy and other health officials in Georgetown about the case but he has been unsuccessful in gaining an audience with any of them. “I went to the Ministry of Health last Thursday (two Thursday ago) but I didn’t get to see the Minister,” George said.
The man explained that the guard on duty at the Ministry told him that Minister Ramsammy was busy and that he did not see members of the public on Thursday. George said he was told that the minister spoke with persons on Friday and so he returned the next day.
When he returned that Friday morning (two Fridays ago), George recalled, he spoke with a man who works in the Minister’s office. The man, George said, told him that he could not see the minister that day and gave him a phone number. “He tell me to call the office before I come by, so they can tell me if I can see the minister or not…but I don’t believe I going to get to see anybody,” the man said.
The man said that he has since visited another health organisation located on Brickdam, Georgetown and has reported his allegation in a written statement.
Repeated efforts made by this newspaper to contact Health Minister Ramsammy have been futile. To date, the Region 3 Health Officer is the only health official to have publicly addressed the allegations being made by George and his family.
On March 26, George had also alleged, he gave the tablets which his wife had been given at the LCH to a doctor at the GPHC. The doctor, he had reported, told him that the tablets were expired and then telephoned an official at the LCH to inform them. However, Regional Health Officer (RHO) of Region Three Dr. Ravindranauth Persaud has since denied these allegations.
Dr. Persaud had told Stabroek News that it was impossible for the medication to be expired since the type given to Elfreida has a high turnover rate. He had also explained that Elfreida had been a patient at the LCH clinic since 1995 and was being treated with the same and similar medications.
Hypertension tablets, which the LCH reportedly gave Elfreida prior to her demise, expired in July last year. Captopril, a tablet used to treat hypertension, congestive heart failure, kidney problems caused by diabetes and to improve survival after a heart attack, was prescribed by the doctor who had been treating the woman since she started visiting the hospital just after mid March.
George had explained that his wife, who suffers from hypertension and diabetes, had been visiting the LCH for about two weeks before she was admitted to the GPHC. He had alleged that the tablets given to his wife by the hospital were making her condition worse.
Among the LCH-issued tablets was a card of Emnorm 500, a tablet used to treat type-two diabetes, and it had expired in February. There were also several other tablets stamped with March 2011 expiry dates. However, despite this, the tablets were allegedly given to Elfreida when she had taken her prescription to the LCH dispensary to be filled.
The expired Captopril and Emnorm were among a collection of tablets which George said were left over in his house from the set the LCH had given to his wife. The man said that he discovered the tablets just two days before his wife passed away and is satisfied that he now has evidence to support his claims. “I have the expired tablets in safekeeping…I know what that doctor showed me when they pointed out the expiration date on the tablets and I know what I see. The tablets that she was using was expired,” George stressed yesterday.
The man and his son, Peter Benjamin, took the woman to the LCH for the last time on March 25; this was the day before she was hospitalised in Georgetown. When they returned home that day, George had recounted, his wife took the medication the LCH doctor had recommended and it was from then that her condition started to worsen. George said his wife started vomiting a short time after she took her first dose of medication that day. By the next morning, Elfreida’s face was swollen and there were black boils about her body. The woman also complained of pain in the chest and throat, her lips were dried and cracked and she could not swallow anything.