Health Minister Dr. Duane Sands was “not happy” last week with the pace of refurbishment at the storm-damaged Rand Memorial Hospital in Freeport, and in an on-site interview with Perspective, advised that additional contractors will be engaged in an effort to complete the scope of works by the end of March, as previously announced.
The island’s only hospital, which sits miles inland and in the heart of downtown, suffered significant storm surge damage in Hurricane Dorian, forcing most of its services to be transplanted to an adjacent field hospital provided by Samaritan’s Purse and to the privately-owned Sunrise Medical Center.
Since that time, services at the hospital’s imaging, emergency department, laboratory, pharmacy and psychiatric ward have been re-established, but the hospital’s medical wards, intensive care unit and operating room are among sections still in varying stages of repair.
Sands said, “So, we’ve made considerable progress [but] I am not happy that we have [not] made as much progress as I would like to see, and so, we’re going to redouble our efforts and expand the number of teams working.
“We have now asked for three additional teams to come on site because we absolutely intend to make this end of March deadline.”
While leading us on a tour of the progress, it was easy to see why Sands was pleased with the progress in some areas and unhappy with that in others, most especially, that of the hospital’s intensive care unit.
Directing our attention to the unit space, as Rand administrator Sharon Williams and other hospital staff looked on, he offered, “This is the most challenging area, which is the intensive care unit, so, you can see that this is nowhere near where we need it to be, but we are going to ratchet this up in order to get this done.”
The space was little more than a shell with interior wall framings, unfinished trenched floors and unfinished exterior walls.
Last year, the Public Hospitals Authority (PHA) signed a memorandum of understanding (MOA) with the Carnival Corporation to facilitate the hospital’s repairs and replacement of storm-damaged equipment.
During our tour, Sands pointed to the main hallway’s unfinished flooring, which he said Carnival would be “starting shortly”, before leading us to the hospital’s operating room where we met two laborers hard at work.
“Now, the really beautiful area in terms of progress,” Sands pointed out, “is the operating room and recovery room; we’re making incredible progress here.”
The health minister estimated that service, via the hospital’s wards and operating room, should be available, “certainly within the next four to six weeks”, adding that the maternity ward will be situated in one of several modular wards that have been sourced.
“Everything beyond that,” he added, “which would have been the medical surgical ward, operating room and intensive care unit, is now provided at Samaritan’s Purse. So, what we intend to do once we have completed the clinical areas, is we can explant services from Samaritan’s Purse — not all of them [as] some services would have to stay there — and then as we complete each area, then we move it back into the Rand.”
Samaritan’s Purse completed a full handover of its field hospital to the PHA last Monday, according to administrator Williams, who gave us the incredible backstory of a hospital corridor where scores of patients and evacuees were forced to find safety from flood waters nobody expected to encounter.
“We had five babies”
When flood waters rushed into the Rand, the hospital not only became a safe haven for its 40-plus in patients, but also for special care evacuees housed at the adjacent Christ the King Church Hall and neighboring residents who were forced out of their homes by Dorian’s storm surge.
In all, the hospital’s 60-plus doctors, nurses and support staff were charged with providing emergency rescue, care and support to over 200 people for several days, a feat Williams said makes these healthcare providers some of the island’s unsung heroes.
Among the hospital’s patients were newborns in the hospital’s special baby care unit, who staff skillfully rescued and transported to higher, safer ground.
Williams recalled, “[For] the special baby care unit, we would have moved them up to our dry area in the radiology department; we converted our radiology CAT scan waiting area into the special baby care unit.”
And as the level of the flood waters increased, it was a lone hospital corridor that served as the saving grace for patients and evacuees, a corridor Williams dubs her “savior corridor”.
“There was no other grounds in the hospital that was not touched except the high levels of the corridor and certain parts of the emergency room,” she explained.
“When the water came rushing in, the first thing we did was we looked for the higher grounds that we had planned for and when we were putting together our evacuation plan, I was asked ‘what would you do if we got flooded out?’
“I said, off the cuff, ‘we would have to move everyone to the corridor’, [and] we never anticipated that the water would come into the hospital; that was nowhere on our radar.”
Though a hospital would be considered the likely venue for a point of refuge in a disaster, the influx of unexpected evacuees was, nonetheless, a challenge for the hospital’s staff, but one, Williams said, they rose to the occasion to meet.
“That was challenging,” she remembered with a smile and a hint of wonderment, “and I’m not talking about feeding them. I’m talking about knowing that you have the responsibility of 200-plus souls and you don’t know whether the roof is going to hold, and you don’t know how far the water level will come up.”
Williams proudly declared, “Yes, everyone, our nurses and our doctors, everyone, had to walk through that water for the duration of the time but everybody did what they needed to do and what they were supposed to do, and they were spectacular.”