Shortage of nurses at GPHC

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…night shifts almost left bare as nurses, doctors fall ill with COVID, report sick

—RN says: “We have the gear but we just don’t have the human resources”

By Svetlana Marshall

At least seven units within the Georgetown Public Hospital (GPHC) are reportedly hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, with many nurses and other health professionals falling ill and others ‘reporting sick’ – resulting a shortage of nurses.


Chairman of GPHC, Dr. Leslie Ramsammy, though not confirming the number of units severely affected, said he is working to address the situation. “We’re experiencing a severe shortage of staff. We have the gears but we just don’t have the human resources, we just don’t,” a Registered Nurse, attached to the Georgetown Public Hospital, told the Village Voice Newspaper.

Speaking under strict anonymity out of fear of victimisation, the Registered Nurse (RN) listed the Male Medical Surgical Wards 1 and 2, the Transplant and Vascular Department, the Maternity Ward, the Paediatric Ward, the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit and the Female Ward as among the units severely affected, particularly during the night shifts, due to a shortage of staff.

Painting a vivid picture of the situation on the ground, the RN explained that Male Surgical Ward 1 usually has three Registered Nurses working per shift alongside three Nursing Assistants, however, as of Friday, January 14, the majority had tested positive for COVID as she alluded to those required to work the night shift.

According to her, the situation was so dire on Thursday (January 13) that RNs from other Wards had to be brought in because there was no Registered Nurse to work the night shift.

Over at Male Surgical 2, the situation is no different, the RN said. “The majority of their staff nurses are down. The Patient Care Assistants, they are out, who are not awaiting results, have tested positive,” she explained.

The RN said due to the current situation, the patient load is extremely high when compared to the number of Registered Nurses available per shift. “Many nights, there are only one Registered Nurse and one Patient Care Assistant to work with an average of 34 patients in Male Surgical 1 and Male Surgical Two,” the RN disclosed.

According to her, the Transplant and Vascular Department is also being affected. “They don’t have a large team there but they have tested positive,” she said. It was explained that Nurses assigned to the Transplant and Vascular Department became infected with the virus after they were reassigned to the “Open Ward” after a number of RNs there tested positive.

“They reassigned the transplant nurses to work there, and they too end up with COVID, now they left the transplant vascular area short on nurses,” she posited. On Friday (January 14), there was reportedly no RN to relieve the Day Staff, and as such, persons had to be brought from other departments to assist.

Nurses and doctors within the Paediatric Ward have also tested positive, resulting in a shortage of human resources. “Why? Because the Infectious Diseases Hospital had sent a patient who they said they had cleared of COVID but wasn’t cleared, and so, a lot of the doctors got COVID, two of the supervisors got COVID, and plenty nurses, so all of the departments are affected,” she explained.

According to her, the situation is no different in the Cardiac Intensive Care Unity, the Maternity Ward and the Female Ward. “The nurses are fatigued, who not testing positive, reporting sick because thinking about them alone being there to pull the weight, they wouldn’t come. We are very, very short on nurses. It is not smooth sailing out here as is being portrayed,” she posited.

It was noted that those who are willing to work, are asked to work double shifts. “Many of the day shift staff have to work overtime to cover the Night Shifts. If the nurses stop working overtime, they will see exactly what will happen,” she added.

Another Registered Nurse, who painted a similar picture of the situation at the Georgetown Public Hospital, said there could be a reduction in positive cases among staff if the hospital returns to a rigid system of testing and screening. It was explained that patients are being admitted without being tested for COVID. “We currently don’t have patients in our Unit right now because three out of our four patients were tested positive this week and last week. We have several staff on COVID leave,” she reported.

Like the first RN, the nurse said that the hospital has sufficient PPEs for staff, however, but the problem lies with the screening process. She reported too that since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020 – almost two years ago – many RNs have tendered their resignations, leaving behind a much younger cadre of nurses.

“For this month alone, several supervisors and junior staff would have left,” she posited, while adding that just a few senior nurses are on the floor offering guidance to the younger cadre of RNs and Nursing Assistants. It was explained that many of the Registered Nurses and other health personnel are leaving because they believe they are not adequately compensated, and are starved of risk allowances. “As a Registered Nurse, my salary before tax is $115,000, and if I decide that I want to leave, I could go and get a job that is paying as much as US$50 per hour for my service,” she posited.

The RNs also called for there to be a reduction in visitors to the hospital.

In an interview with the Village Voice Newspaper on Saturday, newly appointed Chairman of the Georgetown Public Hospital, Dr. Leslie Ramsammy confirmed that a number of units within the country’s premier health institution are affected, however, he said the situation is not unique to work places in and out of Guyana.

“Like any other workplace or like any other public place, we are going to have a level of infections. This is not a Guyana thing, it is anywhere in the world, we have confronting us, the most contagious virus in the history of mankind,” he posited.

With that said, Dr. Ramsammy, who once served as a Health Minister, said it is important for GPHC, and the country in general to adhere to the known public health measures that have been outlined by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Such measures include the wearing of masks when in public, physical distancing, sanitisation and vaccination against the virus.

“One of the things I have noticed at GPHC, once I started, was a level of non-adherence to the rules. For example, there are too many people in the hospital surroundings still walking around without masks. There can be no excuse for that. That include staff, professional staff, it is not just nurses, its doctors, its other people, that sometimes take off their masks. But we have to ensure that there is 100% adherence to the well tested and well publicised, and well utilised public health measures that have been endorsed by the WHO, that have been endorsed by public health agencies like the CDC in the US,” Dr. Ramsammy explained.

Zero tolerance
He said since taking up the Chairmanship, he has introduced a zero tolerance for non-adherence to those public health measures. “So yes, we are going to be confronted with infections among our staff. Don’t matter want we do, there will be a level of that but we have to minimize that exposure, and to minimize that exposure we have to have zero tolerance for not adhering to the rules, that include people who come to the hospital,” he reasoned.

He said the hospital gates are now better managed, and in cases where staff are required to isolate or quarantine pending the results of their COVID-19 tests, contingency systems are being put in place. Dr. Ramsammy said he is in discussion with the Lab technicians to accelerate the rate at which results are produced for both patients and staff. In the case of staff, he said the decline in human resources could be addressed in part once results are readily available, explaining that some of them are off the job awaiting their results. Once negative, they are scheduled to return. In the interim, staff are brought from other less affected departments to assist, in keeping with the hospital’s contingency plan.

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