Columns

Are we broke or spending badly?

The Spanish Town
Hospital in St
Catherine

Sunday, January 27, 2019

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BACK in 2005 a close friend of mine, Superintendent Cornelius Walker, was involved in a freak car accident in downtown Kingston. He was rushed to the Kingston Public Hospital (KPH), where he was given what I imagine was standard emergency care.

This left him stable, but still critical. We were told, however, that he had to be moved to the University Hospital of the West Indies (UWHI) to have a CAT scan performed before further treatment could be administered. This seemed odd, as this is the primary public hospital in the capital of the country.

Well, Mr Walker was moved to UHWI with sirens and a convoy as quickly as possible. He was then, to my shock and dismay, placed in a corridor for hours, waiting his turn to use the only CT scanner in the hospital.

It took a call from the prime minister of Jamaica to get him moved up in the line. He died some days later.

I can't help but wonder about that night of ridiculous and tragic irony, at the unnecessary delays and the movement of a very injured man, and whether his death could have been avoided. If we had one more CT scanner in two hospitals, and one less idiot in charge who puts a dying man in a line to X-ray his head, it is possible.

I once hired a man to perform security duties many years ago. During the interview he referred to himself as 'a fit man'. He did in fact look healthy and capable. Years later I saw him looking old and frail and suffering from kidney disease. I enquired about his treatment and he said that he had got to this stage because he couldn't afford the private use of a dialysis machine, and he just could not access the machines at KPH.

I made further enquiries and was told that the hospitals simply do not have enough machines to fill the demand. So, if you have kidney disease and cannot get on the list, or get some money to pay for your dialysis, you are going to die.

Despite my efforts in the days that followed, a 'fit man' died.

A few years ago I had a need to carry a very ill woman to the Spanish Town Hospital. I had to lift her to the emergency room from my car. As I lumbered towards the entrance, I was greeted by a security guard who informed me loudly: “She can't come in here.”

Confused, I asked him why.

He claimed: “She is not bleeding, she 'haffi guh' the clinic.”

I recall thinking that if I were 20 years younger, two strokes dumber, and four inches taller he would be the one needing emergency care.

However, I hauled my sick friend to the clinic, where I was informed I must park her on a chair and wait for her number to be called. I was also told that the average wait time was about three to five hours. So, off to Andrews Memorial Hospital we went.

The question, to me, is not why the Lord chose to punch two eye-holes into this dumb security guard's skull, but rather, why a security guard was given the job of determining who gets emergency care. I was informed that it was so because the hospital cannot afford to pay a nurse or a doctor to stand at the entrance to the Casualty Ward.

I get it; we are broke. All of the above scenarios exist because we are simply too broke to afford better.

Recently, I was observing the trial of the three police officers for the murder of Clarendon's Bisson, and within the case I saw that INDECOM, a Government of Jamaica entity, had brought in an expert in forensic reconstruction from Washington to further the case they were attempting to prosecute.

As someone who has studied thousands of murder cases in Jamaica, I recall thinking that if this had been the case of an investigation of the murder of a regular citizen by gunmen, there would not have been the budget to bring in an expert from Santa Cruz, let alone Washington.

Also, he would not have been flown in or even driven in, save the cop picking him up himself.

So are we really that broke, or is it what we choose to spend on?

Let us revisit the dialysis machines at KPH. We cannot afford to fill the need of our citizens with regard to treating kidney disease. So pay, magically find your way to the top of a list, or die. This is how the sick are treated in Jamaica.

However, we can afford to staff an entire organisation to investigate how gunmen meet their demise, at the cost of tens of millions of dollars a year. This is an organisation that exists in addition to the Bureau of Special Investigations created, to do the same job. And get this, they both still exist now. But, we can't afford dialysis machines. This is a disgrace!

We cannot afford to have health professionals at the entrance of our casualty wards, when the decision of whether our poor live or die is being made by a security guard from a company that made the lowest bid.

Also, consider every minister and junior minister is given a sports utility vehicle to drive from every ministry. But we're broke … hmmm!

With a health sector that killed 'Calf', 'Fit Man', and almost my friend, and hundreds a year that cannot make the equivalent of 'Schindler's List' for kidney care, we can afford to give all and anyone with the word minister somewhere within their title an SUV?

Well, I'm one writer who values politicians but, to be frank, before one more person who cannot make the dialysis list at KPH dies, every politician should be pushing down an AD Wagon.

It is simply not acceptable that we claim to be broke and yet choose to spend on the examples I have noted.

Our leaders need to look at our health sector and how they can first save the lives that are being lost because of tight budgets and then look at what can be saved from the budget of luxury spending.

Maybe we cannot afford these pretty units. Maybe we cannot afford to spend hundreds of millions to determine how killers meet their demise. Maybe we cannot afford to bring in experts to spend five minutes in a witness box. Or at least we cannot afford it whilst our poor die because they cannot get on a machine that in First World countries have become so cost-efficient that people have them at their bedside in their homes.

I will close by saying that if you cannot fix anything else, at least move the darn guards masquerading as doctors from our emergency rooms before it ends up in a posting from Ripley's 'Believe it or Not'.

Jason McKay is a criminologist. Feedback: jasonamckay@gmail.com


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