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Sands: Now is not the time for division

Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands yesterday dismissed claims made by Trade Union Congress President Obie Ferguson on behalf of some health unions, as he stressed that the COVID-19 pandemic calls for unity rather than division.

“This is not the time for division,” Sands told reporters outside the Churchill Building.

“This is the time for us to come together [and] solve problems, which is not to say we have to hold hands and sing kumbaya, but we have a nation, a people, that’s counting on us, and we have to be there for them.”

Ferguson, in a recent statement, claimed that some medical workers in the country are not getting the necessary personal protective gear needed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among health workers.

He also raised issues relating to “unfair’ schedules for medical workers and “major” health insurance for all front line workers; and called for members of the health unions to be involved in the government’s decision-making process when it comes to COVID-19.

Most of those concerns were addressed in a statement released by the Ministry of Health yesterday, which sought to assure the public “that all health care workers will be provided with proper personal protective equipment (PPE)”.

The statement also claimed that the National Congress of Trade Unions already sits on the government’s National Coordination Committee on COVID-19, and that “inclusion of some health care union members occurs when the Emergency Operations Centre of the Ministry of Health meets”.

Additionally, “the government has already committed to providing physicians with a $5,000 honorarium for those who work on the front line of the health sector’s response”, according to the Ministry of Health.

“The government has also offered the provision of a life insurance benefit of $100,000 should a health care worker contract the COVID-19 virus and experience an untimely death,” its statement read.

Ferguson, in his statement, said the union leaders were “urgently” requesting a meeting with Sands and Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis to address the concerns of the health unions.

But Sands said he has met with some health care workers and that he remains available to them.

“We’ve met,” Sands said.

“On Sunday I met with some 280 or so physicians by Zoom. The day before, I met with the physician leadership.

“I am open. I am available and we continue to seek resolution to any of these outstanding matters.”

Bahamas Doctors Union (BDU) President Dr. Melisande Bassett also came to Sands’ defense yesterday, claiming that “he is trying to address the issues that we have as we bring them to his attention”.

Bassett told The Nassau Guardian that Ferguson’s statement was “never meant for public consumption” and that it had been written before Sands held the meeting with physicians.

“This was never meant for public consumption because we don’t want to distract the public from the job that the government is trying to do and we support the government in what it’s doing,” she said.

She added, “I need to be fair in everything that I do and being fair in this is that the minister is responding to the complaints as we raise them – not always as fast as we would like, but they are being [addressed].”

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