The recent uptick in COVID-19 cases on New Providence and Grand Bahama is cause for concern, according to Bahamas Doctors Union (BDU) President Dr. Melisande Bassett, who said additional manpower needs to be brought to the medical front if the new wave of the pandemic were to reach the level of the first wave as doctors are “burnt out”.
Speaking with The Nassau Guardian, Bassett said doctors are still recovering from the initial burden placed on the healthcare system and that low staff morale among those physicians is forcing them to seek employment and opportunities elsewhere.
“We’re still trying to recover from that, because it put a strain on the number of hours and the duties that physicians would have been responsible for,” Bassett said.
“When you have 30 doctors having to be quarantined for 14 days, that made it very difficult for the five who were left in the medicine department. So, you can imagine the difficulty they had. Persons are burnt out.
“That’s the reality and to avoid that we have to ensure that persons have the necessary support to meet what we have encountered in the past and to mitigate if it goes beyond what we have seen. If it was difficult during the first wave, it’s probably going to be twice as much more work required to ensure that Bahamians are safe.”
Basset continued, “Persons are stretched thin. We need additional staff. If it gets to the point of where it was during the first wave then we’d need additional staff without question. So, that’s certainly a concern for us given everything that’s going on with the new Senior House Officers (SHOs) and the interns.”
At one point in April, more than 200 healthcare workers were placed in quarantine after being potentially exposed to the virus.
That included 96 physicians, 62 nurses, 12 rehabilitation and respiratory technicians, nine radiologists and eight lab workers.
Noting that the first wave of cases in The Bahamas was not as bad as medical experts had expected, Bassett said she hopes the Ministry of Health and Public Hospitals Authority (PHA) officials don’t wait until there is a dire need for doctors to move to sort out issues like contracts.
“I’m sure they are aware of it,” she said. “Like I said before, when we had the first wave, the first group [of doctors] that was experiencing this issue, they got their contracts almost immediately. So, I’m hoping that we won’t wait for that for when we are hard pressed to say, ‘Okay, we need you now so we’re going to give you a contract.’ I hope we don’t wait for that. I hope that we do this scientifically and logically. If we look at the data, if we were that taxed in the first wave and it was not as bad as we had anticipated. But if it becomes that bad or those numbers are that high that we have to increase the manpower, we need to have those persons on staff.”
Up to June 14, there had been 104 COVID-19 cases in The Bahamas.
Since July 8, 20 cases have been confirmed — 13 on Grand Bahama and seven on New Providence. The latest five were confirmed yesterday (three on Grand Bahama and two on New Providence).
The relationship between the BDU and the PHA has been a contentious one over the past year with the union fighting for a myriad of issues, including maternity benefits and holiday pay.
And in the midst of a global pandemic, Bassett said the morale among doctors is so low that many are seeking employment outside of the country or outside of the public healthcare system.
“Ten of them were accepted into U.S. programs, others in the UK. And I think we had one or two who wanted to go privately,” she said.
“But because of the contention that is there, you can imagine what the morale would be like among the junior staff members. We’re constantly being told that our job is not secure. It could affect anybody. We’re always battling with getting secure. It doesn’t seem to have an ordered process. It seems to be targeted as they choose or as they see fit. So, the job security is lost.
“The respect for the human being and the worker is lost. You can have a building and you can have a hospital, but if you don’t have doctors to see patients then you would have lost your objective. You would not have met it.”
She added, “If you have workers who are overworked, under-appreciated, undervalued, you will not get value or the best out of these physicians. Now, we try the best that we can but the reality is it’s hard when you’re coming into a toxic work environment and the work you’re putting out goes unnoticed, under-appreciated and you get no respect.”
She said it’s hard for those doctors to continue to work at an optimal level under the circumstances which they are subjected to.
According to Bassett, many of the doctors are seeking to take American or British exams so as to move elsewhere because “The Bahamas is not being hospitable towards them”.
“We can possibly expect to see more persons leaving to seek employment elsewhere.”
Thirty-six interns began work on Monday and 35 SHOs are awaiting confirmation.