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PSU unhappy with the way Covid-19 outbreak was handled at Mental Health Rehab Centre

PSU unhappy with the way Covid-19 outbreak was  handled at Mental Health Rehab Centre
Shelly-Ann Alexander Ross, PSU public relations officer

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by Bria King

Public Service Union (PSU) representatives have bashed local health authorities for the manner in which the COVID-19 outbreak at the Mental Health Rehabilitation Centre is being handled.

PSU unhappy with the way Covid-19 outbreak was  handled at Mental Health Rehab Centre
Members of the Executive of the Public Service Union at Wednesday’s press conference. From left: Joel Poyer, the PSU’s industrial relations officer, Shelly-Ann Alexander Ross, PSU PRO, Elroy Boucher, President of the PSU

The Union has also made claims of occupational health and safety violations at the facility, which they have deemed unfortunate and unacceptable.

However, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Health, Cuthbert Knights assures that the ministry is doing all that is necessary to protect both the patients and staff at all its institutions.

The COVID-19 outbreak at the mental health facility was first reported last Friday, February 28 when 21 patients and two members of staff tested positive for the virus.

As at Wednesday, March 5, there were 104 COVID-19 positive cases related to the MHRC cluster. Of this figure, 94 are patients, which accounts for just over 47 per cent of the overall number of patients at the facility.

Elroy Boucher, the president of the PSU said at a press conference this week that the situation is one that could have been better handled or avoided altogether.

“There is serious need for reform at the Mental Health institution. Those patients are human beings. They are brothers, sisters, parents, relatives. They are people, they have human rights and the way they are crowded in that institution like cattle, that cannot be the proper way of treating people,” he said.

Boucher said part of the solution, in addition to medical interventions, has to be a review of the management at the facility.

The PSU’s public relations officer, Shelly-Ann Alexander Ross outlined the contents of various letters that the Union had written to the Ministry of Health’s permanent secretary, Cuthbert Knights since March 2020 when SVG recorded its first case of COVID-19.

These letters outlined various concerns that had been brought to the Union’s attention as it relates to the staff at the mental health facility. These included the unavailability of masks and other necessary personal protective equipment and the absence of adequate hand washing stations.

According to the PRO, letters were written to the permanent secretary on at least four separate occasions in March, April, May and July 2020, but no response was received.

She said however, that the PSU’s section representative reported to the Union in May that a meeting was held on April 15 with PS Knights and management of the Mental Health Rehabilitation Centre, where it was agreed that new admissions to the facility would be quarantined for 14 days before being allowed to mix with the other patients.

“The union at that time was concerned that in the event there was one episode of COVID-19, there would be a breakout and that would’ve been disastrous for both patients and workers there,” Alexander-Ross said.

At Wednesday’s press conference, the PRO said that reports received since the outbreak highlight several issues relating to the health and safety of the workers at the facility.

Based on correspondence received by the Union’s section representative, Alpha Williams, “a single kit containing personal protective equipment was only given to the nurse who was the one doing the admission and the other persons on that shift were practically exposed. As far as we were told, they were not given anything to protect themselves from this highly contagious disease”.

“Patients are still being admitted to the ward without doing the 14-day quarantine period and there was still no suitable area for quarantining. Several staff, according to Mr Williams were advised to purchase masks because the ministry of health, as far they were told, was not supposed to purchase these masks or babysit the persons, according to what we received in reports,” Alexander-Ross said at Wednesday’s press conference.
The PRO, who is a nurse, said healthcare workers are among the vulnerable groups of persons who have a higher chance of being infected with COVID-19.

She also noted that the issues that have been raised by the Union’s members are unacceptable and that there is an obligation to protect frontline workers.

The COVID-19 positive patients from the Mental Health Rehabilitation Centre have been transferred to the Grace and Truth Campsite at Queen’s Drive to be isolated.

Joel Poyer, the PSU’s industrial relations officer also added his voice to the conversation this week, stating that reports from the Queen’s Drive isolation location are that the facility is not adequate to house the number of patients there.

He claimed that there were two patients on each bed while others were on the floor.

“It shows that management doesn’t realise the situation we are facing and some of these people are diabetic and hypertensive. So, they are vulnerable in their mental capacity and they have another chronic disease that are affecting them that COVID could deal with, but instead of being addressed…they are just putting a plaster over a sore and not trying to clean the sore in any proper way,” Poyer said.

Permanent secretary in the Ministry of Health, Cuthbert Knights told SEARCHLIGHT yesterday that he was not privy to the statements being made by the PSU representatives and he declined to comment specifically on the claims that were made this week.

“If they are saying to you, they have received correspondence, they should bring to you the facts,” Knights said. “Who have they received correspondence from? I cannot comment on lies and innuendos and suggestions…we have made provisions and adequate provisions for every mental health person who …[is] accommodated at the facility where we have isolated patients of the mental health who are positive for COVID.”

The permanent secretary also said his ministry has put in place all of the requisite protocols at the Mental Health Rehabilitation Centre to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and has worked very hard with the staff to provide all the PPEs that they need.

“The ministry provides all staff [with masks] within the Ministry of Health, be it the Lewis Punnett Home, the Mental Health, even at the administrative centre here, persons at the frontline and we have been doing that even before COVID…we have always been doing that,” he said.

The permanent secretary said the ministry continues to do so and has even ramped up on providing healthcare workers with the necessary PPEs, which also include gloves and gowns.

He added that the ministry also provides workers in government buildings with masks since it was mandated by Cabinet that facial coverings were mandatory in those buildings.

Knights called on persons to act more responsibly, specifically as it relates to the comments they make about the pandemic.

“We have a crisis on our hands that we are responding to and responding to in a very responsible way. People should stop nit-picking at little things. Look at our response in moving patients from Mental Health – first in obtaining the facility, moving the patients, moving staff, moving furniture…people have been working around the clock and people are not speaking about the positive efforts, but rather to nit-pick at little things,” he said.

The permanent secretary said the fight against COVID is a national one and feels that persons should rally around and seek to help in any way possible.