A parliamentary team yesterday found expired drugs and poor delivery of health care among a host of problems during a tour of two West Demerara hospitals and the emergency room at one was described as a junkyard.
What was supposed to be the morgue at the Leonora Cottage Hospital turned out to be a bond for storing expired drugs, while beds without sheets, messy laboratories and the conversion of various rooms into storage space for broken light bulbs, expired drugs and tables were among a number of problems observed at the West Demerara Regional Hospital (WDRH)
These findings were made during a visit by the Sectoral Committee on Social Services to observe the conditions at the hospitals and to make recommendations to solve some of the problems encountered. The media accompanied the committee on the visit. Both the WDRH and the Leonora facility have been the subject of numerous media reports about poor conditions.
Chairperson of the committee Indra Chandarpal, who represents the PPP/C, was accompanied by APNU representatives John Adams and Renitta Williams during the tour.
Leonora Cottage Hospital was the first stop. Although this hospital is not the primary health care facility in the region, the environment in which health workers operate is of a high standard except for a few air conditioning units that were not working.
The various sections of the hospital were neatly arranged and the floors were well cleaned. A talk with some of the patients at the facility waiting to access medical care revealed that there are a number of problems affecting the service delivered.
Patients said that the long waiting hours, the dispensing of expired drugs and the attitude of the staff at the pharmacy are the issues bothering them. One patient stated that he was at the hospital since 8 am and was still waiting for his medication three hours after.
He said he has been experiencing pain in his pelvic area and has been visiting the hospital for the past months. About three months ago, the man said, he visited the hospital and received some tablets only to realise that one of the tablets had expired.
The patient said he took the tablets back to the dispensary and explained to the pharmacist that the tablet had expired but was told that this was known. The pharmacist then advised him to use the same expired drug, the man added, but knowing better he did not. “If is nah expired drug is dem nah get drugs…” he lamented.
The man also said he has observed that the staff at the pharmacy are sometimes engaged on their cellular phones instead of serving patients. This, he said, contributes to additional time spent at the institution.
A large amount of expired drugs was seen stored in carton boxes and packed in the building that was supposed to be used as a morgue. Some of the drugs have been there since 2008 and was a result of the previous management which used to order medication and not use it, staff at the hospital said.
Patients also complained that basic drugs, such as the decongestant chlorophan, antibiotic cream and panadol syrup, were not available at the hospital. But according to the person responsible for ordering drugs, they have made a number of calls to the person at the bond supplying these medications but were not successful in getting their supply replenished.
Upon hearing this, Chanderpal contacted the person at the bond to rectify the situation. She then informed the pharmacists that she was able to have the issue rectified and the drugs will be delivered next week.
The hospital has also been without an ambulance for about three years, administrator Dev Haira said, when asked. In situations where a patient has to be transferred to the WDRH from Leonora, contact has to be made with that hospital to send an ambulance, if any is available or the patient suffers.
Other problems affecting patients include the dental department which has not been functioning. A woman related to this newspaper that she went to see the dentist but was told that there were no needles and there would be none for another month. Haira, in response, said that there is a problem with the hand piece on the cleaning machine. Haira also said that the issues raised by the patients were never communicated to him and he took the opportunity to encourage them to do so in the future.
The staff of the hospital comprises seven Cubans. The problem however is that these nurses only work four hours per day while Guyanese nurses work eight hours. It was not clear how much these nurses are paid and what their work arrangements are but the recommendation by Chanderpal and James was that this be known so that it can be shared with the other nurses to prevent any conflict.
The administrator said he has made reports on these problems to the Ministry of Health and the Regional Health Officers but no significant action has been taken.
After listening to the challenges affecting patients and staff, Chanderpal suggested that a monthly meeting be held with Haira, the Regional Executive Officer (REO) and the Regional Health Officer to discuss the way forward and finding solutions to their problems.
WDRH is supposed to be the primary health care facility for persons in Region 3 but the general condition of the hospital changes this perspective. Beds in the Emergency Room (ER) at this hospital do not have sheets and an old curtain hung from a telephone wire separates the beds from the other section of the ER. A few wires were also hanging from the ceiling.
Scattered medications on the counter tops added to the disorderly feel of the ER. A walk through the building also revealed that none of the beds in the paediatric ward had sheets neither are the fans working. However, the nurses’ television was on. The covers on most of the mattresses were also torn while some were tied with clothes to prevent the sponge from falling out. Two nurses who were at the paediatric ward explained that no sheets were on the beds because they do not have patients but when they do they are made up. They added that the beds are not made up because the sheets become dirty and birds entering the building would sometimes leave droppings on them.
The hospital’s pharmacy was also disorganised and Chanderpal ensured that she had brought it to the head of the department’s attention to have an organized structure in place. A few boxes of expired drugs, unused furniture and damaged fluorescent bulbs were also found in various sections of the hospital.
In a meeting with the RHO, Dr Coleman and the REO Donald Gajraj after the tour, Chanderpal said that what they had seen is the need to neaten-up and enhance the inside of the building. She said that the ER is a disgrace and can be compared to a junkyard.
Based on what they had seen, Chanderpal said that personal and professional pride is lacking at the hospital and does not reflect its better known name, “the Best Hospital.” She reiterated that all that is lacking is proper management of the institution. Things such as the painting of the benches and maintaining an organized structure do not call for money and can be done by the staff, she added.
In order to see the smooth running of the WDRH, Gajraj proposed establishing a board of directors to manage the facility so that one person is not tasked with such responsibility. This was endorsed by Chanderpal, who added that the time has come for that. She also informed the RHO and his staff that the committee will be conducting a follow up visit to assess the level of change that has been made.