The management of the Georgetown Public Hos-pital Corporation (GPHC) is never notified when a patient is under police guard, according to Chief Executive Officer Michael Khan, who also says that the hospital staff has been expressing fear at armed ranks being in the wards.
These revelations come in light of a recent incident where a police rank discharged several rounds in the hospital at a fleeing patient who had been severely beaten moments after he committed an armed robbery in Sophia.
The patient, identified as 19-year-old Edgar Blackman, of Tucville, remains at large, Crime Chief Seelall Persaud told Stabroek News when contacted. Persaud said too that the police force would launch an investigation into the circumstances surrounding Blackman’s escape from the hospital.
During an interview at his office yesterday, Khan said that the entire episode has not only left him in shock but has added to his nightmares that something may go dreadfully wrong when patients are under police guard.
He recalled that on Saturday last, he received a call from the hospital’s Internal Security supervisor shortly after the shooting, which occurred just before 4pm.
“I could not believe that someone would be so reckless, especially someone who is supposed to be holding a higher standard and should know better than to fire a gun within the hospital at a fleeing individual,” Khan stressed, while saying that not only was the shooting uncalled for but it may have caused harm to any individual who was outside in the yard and also to the hospital’s security officer in the hut next to the gate through which Blackman fled along East Street.
Blackman ran through the gate, up East Street and then turned into New Market Street in the direction of Cummings Street.
Khan was hopeful that in light of what occurred that day that the Police Commissioner takes “very stern measures” against the rank.
Asked if he was in touch with the police or whether any rank made contact with him after the shooting, he responded in the negative.
He said that at the moment he was preparing a report on the shooting but was delayed from completing it since he did not have the cost for replacing the window which was damaged as a result.
When Stabroek News visited the scene of the shooting, the three bullet holes in the glass window located above the staircase which leads to the Intensive Care Unit, the High Dependency Unit, the Children’s Ward, the theatre and the surgical wards were evident.
Based on what Khan said, the cost will be sent to the police force, which would be responsible for repairing the window.
According to Khan the hospital is not notified when a patient is under police guard there. “They (the police) come with the prisoner and we notice them in the ward. We are not officially notified,” he said, while noting that this may also be a lapse on the part of the hospital.
He noted that if the hospital is notified, then the Internal Security can get involved and help where necessary.
Throughout the hospital’s compound there are several guards posted at various locations. Asked whether these guards should play a role in the recapturing of a patient who is escaping, Khan said they should. “From my understanding the internal security should assist in apprehending and we have just hired a new security chief and this is one of the issues I would bring to her attention for her to remind her staff that we are here to work along with the police because they assist us and it is only right that we assist them,” he said.
Khan, however, pointed out that prior to the shooting, senior management officials at staff meetings informed him of the concerns and the fears of the staff about the behaviour of armed police ranks in the hospital wards.
“What we have noticed are the complaints from nurses and supervisors that the police do not stay with the prisoner. They wander all over and nurses are commenting that when we have alleged prisoners on the ward under police guard they are very scared and this recent incident has bought that to the fore,” Khan stressed.
Among the concerns, he said, is if some of these patients pick up implements while escaping and persons get hurt in the process. He said that “it is a nightmare that I have at all times and my staff know that I always talk to them about not allowing people to come to the wards after visiting hours,” he added.
Sources at the hospital informed this newspaper that at the time of the escape Blackman was not handcuffed. Based on what was stated, Blackman, who was badly beaten, was a patient of the male surgical ward. It would appear that he underwent some sort of surgery and was under guard from the moment he was admitted to the hospital.
A source said that the man told the uniformed rank that he wanted to use the washroom. For some reason, the rank was not in the same room with Blackman but rather was in the passageway. It was during this time that the teen saw an opportunity to escape. Persons who saw the fleeing man said that he was wearing no handcuffs or foot cuffs.
Stabroek News was told that when the Internal Security visited the ward after the escape, the foot cuffs were on the patient’s bed.
This newspaper was told that a possible explanation as to why the man was wearing no hand or foot cuffs could be that preparations were being made to take him to a police station. At the time of the shooting, Blackman had just been discharged from the institution.
Meanwhile, a security official told Stabroek News that what occurred on Saturday was clearly against police protocol. The official stated that despite their condition, foot cuffs or handcuffs should be on under-guard patients. The source said that had the foot cuffs been on the man, it would have been hard for him to escape. It was explained that that patients under guard have to be watched 24 hours a day and the rank should be watching them at all time.
Asked what happens if the rank needs to take a washroom break, the official said that the rank has to ensure that the person is properly handcuffed to the bed, whether with handcuffs or foot cuffs.
The official questioned if this could have possibly been a planned escape. Over the years there have been a few patients who have managed to escape while under police guard.
When asked what the usual procedure is when someone is under guard at the hospital, Persaud said that that depends on the hospital administration as sometimes it does not want admitted patients to be cuffed.
Persaud said that he is unclear why Blackman was not handcuffed at the time of his escape and expressed hope that the investigation would provide the answer. According to Persaud, based on how things look so far, there seems to have been no collusion between the police rank and Blackman.
A hospital staffer told this newspaper that he learnt after the escape that Blackman was already outside the building heading towards the gate when the rank, standing on the stairway in the side the hospital, opened fire. The staffer said that the rank probably panicked but noted that it was poor judgment on his part since there was no way he could have hit Blackman because there were objects in the line of fire, including a concrete post and beams. It would appear that after running through the door leading to the doorway, Blackman ran down the stairs but jumped from a platform located in the middle. He then ran through an open glass door a short distance away before heading through the gate.
Stabroek News was told that after the gunshots rang out, staff immediately ducked for cover.
Another staffer said that had it been a weekday, someone would have been hit as that is when the hospital sees the most traffic. At the time of the shooting, there was no one else on the stairway.
The staff pointed out too that the female security guard who was manning the gate also had no choice but to duck for cover as well. The staff pointed out that the woman could have been hit by one of the bullets.
The staff members this newspaper spoke with expressed fear at the situation and called on the relevant authorities to take the necessary steps to ensure this does not happen again.