THE Government is closer to making good on years of warning that it will start taking people before the courts for abandoning their relatives in hospitals, where these patients continue to occupy critically needed bed space for months and in some cases years.
Minister of Health and Wellness Dr Christopher Tufton announced yesterday that the ministry will begin the process of filing civil suits against families of people who have abandoned relatives in health facilities as of January next year.
According to the ministry, nearly 300 beds or five per cent of the beds in the public health-care system are taken by social cases.“Through our social work case management process, we have identified families that are able to support the care and treatment of these social cases but have refused to take the responsibility. We know of cases of persons who are receiving pensions from overseas but relatives have refused to use these funds to support their relatives in hospital,” he informed the House of Representatives yesterday.
He said there are instances where persons have been abandoned in hospital and relatives have rented their property and refuse to use these resources to care for them. “We intend to address the matter directly with some of these individual family members. We will dialogue first, but if necessary, will take action,” he stated.Dr Tufton said social cases impact the delivery of health care, and causes overcrowding in hospitals, some for as long as seven years.“In many cases these persons may have mobility challenges or may be otherwise incapacitated, in many cases due to mental illness. Given the health system’s moral duty to care, we are unable to complete the discharge process and these individuals are left in the care of the health system.
Given that they use beds, they reduce, significantly, the turnover rate and ultimately contribute to the overcrowding in hospitals,” he explained.Furthermore, Dr Tufton said it is the practice of some Jamaican families, during the Christmas period, to abandon their relatives – usually aged and infirm – in hospital. He said this aggravates the problems of overcrowding in the country’s hospitals during a time of year when there are more admissions, and Jamaicans must desist from the practice, especially with the increased threats posed by COVID-19.
At the same time, the health minister pointed out that one of the main issues that affect the service delivery of health facilities is the lack of appropriate infrastructure to give information to clinicians so that they can assess and diagnose illnesses and determine appropriate treatment.“This has resulted in patients spending days on beds waiting to raise financing for tests to be done in the private sector. This delay impacts several aspects of the health-care delivery, specifically bed stay time in hospital.
This then impacts the turnover rate of beds and ultimately overcrowding,” he said.He noted that the ministry has implemented a short-, medium- and long-term approach to ease these conditions by rightsizing the infrastructure needs of the facilities and improving capacity to meet the changing demands for health care.He told the House that the Government will now reactivate a plan to update medical equipment in the public health sector with a $700-million Inter-American Development Bank-funded health services support project. The facilities that are to benefit from the purchase of three CT scan machines, three X-ray machines, dental equipment, and equipment for operating theatres are the Spanish Town, St Ann’s Bay, and May Pen hospitals.
According to the ministry, more than 70 per cent of the equipment in public facilities are either near or at the end of life, and more than 40 per cent of equipment bought by the Government are out of use due to lack of maintenance or lack of appropriate parts for repair. He said part of the problem is the limited maintenance capacity in the country.“This situation is an untenable state of affairs and the ministry, over the next five years, will be taking direct action to address these issues,” he promised. Implementation of this plan should have started in 2020, but had been delayed due to money being redirected to the COVID-19 crisis,” Dr Tufton said.