‘Work while it is day’

When Health Minister Renward Wells uncleverly quoted scripture to reporters this week in support of the government’s decision to impose weekend COVID-19 lockdowns with weekday commercial activity, as opposed to tighter measures recommended by international and local health professionals, his pronouncement was serendipitous.

Wells cited the words of Christ in John 9:4, “I must work the works of him that sent me while it is day; the night cometh when no man can work”, to rationalize the continuance of regular business activity during daytime hours on New Providence and Abaco.

A proper interpretation of this scripture ultimately highlights where Wells and the administration of which he is a part have been found wanting prior to and during the country’s pandemic response, as it is a message about fulfilling one’s finite mandate.

Governments are sent to Parliament by the Bahamian people for a finite period, and their seminal mandate is stewardship undergirded by transparency and accountability, and propelled by leadership that is responsible, consultative and in tune with how policy decisions impact stakeholders and the country at large.

Consistent complaints by healthcare workers of lack of consultation on the part of the government not only point to irresponsible leadership in the country’s pandemic response, but leadership that is stubbornly disconnected from the impact of its policies and practices.

We cannot fathom, for example, how the Ministry of Health reasoned that the country’s current healthcare crisis would be an opportune time to dive once again into the sea of labor unrest with the country’s nurses, through the reported reintroduction of a shift system the bargaining unit for nurses has fought against for years.

Wells said the move is designed “to get the most work” out of nurses, even as nurses have paid the ultimate price in the COVID-19 fight, and together with physicians, are continuing to suffer burnout and illness in the second wave.

By all published accounts, the planned shift system which has resulted in a nurses sickout at a time the healthcare system is on its knees, took both the nurses union and leadership of the Public Hospitals Authority by surprise.

The Minnis administration has had sufficient time at the helm to know that the government cannot bring about the best outcomes by being insular in its approach, and by failing or refusing to genuinely consult with those whose heavy lifting is essential to recognizing sought after outcomes.

For the past five months, leadership of the Consultant Physicians Staff Association (CPSA) has called on Prime Minister Minnis and Wells to honor commitments to meet regularly with senior physicians on the ongoing pandemic response.

Regarding its 28-bed in-patient COVID-19 field facility to be established adjacent to Princess Margaret Hospital (PMH), Samaritan’s Purse Deputy Director for international projects David Phillips said the facility’s clinical capacity was determined in consultation with the prime minister’s office, the Ministry of Health and PMH.

What is not apparent, is government’s meaningful consultation with the country’s healthcare professionals on the sector’s critical needs extending beyond the valued assistance to be provided by Samaritan’s Purse.

Such consultation is not only prescient given the healthcare needs of residents currently at risk due to ongoing shortages, but is key as the country prepares for a re-launch of commercial tourism that will increase the population of those who must rely on an already overburdened healthcare system.

Nearly four months into the second wave, there remains no sign of a flattening of the curve on New Providence.

Working while it is day, in the context of the pandemic response, ought to have translated into building requisite capacities during lockdowns, formulating workable response strategies beyond emergency restrictions and fostering bipartisanship to combat an enemy that threatens us all.

The competent authority and the administration he leads cannot accomplish this in a bubble of insularity that walls the government off from the human capital necessary to reverse the country’s negative COVID-19 trajectory.

Failing such a reversal, the proverbial “nighttime” scenario of healthcare system collapse and the connected fallout thereto, could befall us.

The government must work together with all stakeholders and change present courses of its own, to prevent this.

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