Mon | Jun 14, 2021

CROOKS BLEED HOSPITALS

Donors wary as gifts frequently go on sale, stolen from facilities

Published:Sunday | March 28, 2021 | 12:05 AMErica Virtue - Senior Gleaner Writer
Kingston Public Hospital

Moved by the crisis facing local hospitals, a number of overseas-based Jamaicans have been pooling resources to prop up the public health sector with much-needed resources. But as thieves continue to prey on hospital resources, others have washed...

Moved by the crisis facing local hospitals, a number of overseas-based Jamaicans have been pooling resources to prop up the public health sector with much-needed resources. But as thieves continue to prey on hospital resources, others have washed their hands of contributing any further aid.

“This thing is disgraceful. Jamaicans must be number one at stealing hospital property. They don’t pay for the services and the hospitals can’t turn them away. We cannot operate a free healthcare service because we are not educated enough to do the things that keep us healthy. Still, people come into the hospital and steal what other people give. How must you go to a hospital and steal sheets, man? Good God!” Frederick, a Jamaican based in Florida who is rallying his countrymen to send a shipment of sheets to the island, lamented in an interview with The Gleaner last week.

He said the latest effort was birthed after a recent video posted on social media showed what appeared to be a patient lying on a hospital floor. A public appeal for a bed for an ailing member of the Jamaica Fire Brigade, who was admitted at the Spanish Town Hospital in St Catherine, further tugged at their heartstrings.

Stung and ashamed at the footage, they decided to acquire at least 2,000 flat sheets for some targeted hospitals as a start.

SHEET-COLLECTION DRIVE

“First we are trying to start with little things. So we are on a sheet-collection drive. Any size flat sheets will do and king-size sheets can be cut in two. Honestly, after that video surfaced of the man on the floor at the hospital, many persons were just moved, and we decided to begin a sheet-collection drive in Florida,” said Frederick. “Despite the knowledge that they could still steal what we are hoping to give, we are still trying. Nothing is more heart-rending than seeing vulnerable persons with their dignity exposed.”

The donation would be well received, University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI) CEO Kevin Allen said, telling The Gleaner that sheets have to be replenished every four months because of breakdown.

“The higher the threads count of the sheets, the better service you get from it. But the washing and heating process linen goes through breaks them down after a while and we have to replenish every 120 days. In addition to the chemicals used, every sheet that goes on a bed at UHWI is ironed,” he said.

According to Allen, the hospital does not have a problem with linen theft and has managed to keep pilfering overall to a minimum.

But the age-old culture of theft has left others with a heavy heart.

One diaspora member recounted a similar effort, which ended with the sheets hitting the market in downtown Kingston days after they were handed over, with the hospital’s initials emblazoned and in plain sight.

Stung by the bitter memory of such efforts, some former donors have adopted a hands-off approach. Still, others have suggested that the friends of hospitals support groups be reignited.

Both government and personal properties are prime targets for crooks, who even remove wheelchairs from hospitals.

Last year, a woman who worked at the Kingston Public Hospital (KPH) was arrested and charged after a large quantity of hospital property was found at her Manley Meadows place of residence. Among the find was a filled prescription for a patient at the hospital.

Last March, a director of Brown’s Funeral Home in Kingston was also charged with conspiracy to defraud and receiving stolen property in connection with the discovery of hundreds of hospital gloves and masks at the establishment located next door to the KPH.

Twenty-five cases of gloves and masks labelled ‘KPH’, ‘Victoria Jubilee’, ‘Accident and Emergency’, and ‘Operating Theatre’ were recovered in that operation.

South East Regional Health Authority (SERHA) Chairman Wentworth Charles said they would have been taken from storerooms.

In the wake of that incident, Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton castigated cheats who have been stealing masks and other supplies from hospitals and reselling them for profit.

IMMORAL AND ILLEGAL

“I have seen in the marketplaces, in recent days, persons who are selling masks, and some of those masks look very much like the masks that the hospitals have in storage to be used in the public sector,” he said. “If we identify any individual who is using this opportunity to steal public property and then selling it for profit, it is immoral and illegal and we’ll use the law to penalise those persons.”

A senior medical practitioner said stealing at hospitals was commonplace.

“That’s the least. If a patient has to leave ward and go for imaging on or off property, they have to strip the bed and walk with a bundle, especially during visiting times. Nurses have had their phones stolen in the hospital. I mean, if you can steal somebody’s filled prescription, what won’t you steal?” he said last week.

“Many persons get robbed in the hospitals. Their personal property gets stolen sometimes if they are asleep under medication or if they have to go elsewhere in the hospital. I just don’t understand it,” he told The Gleaner.

Patients are advised not to keep things of value on their person or to have no more than $500 at any one time.

“Theft is common and especially after visiting times,” said a St Mary-based nurse.

But for those willing to keep donating to hospitals, Charles said that the door is always open, noting that there was a unit within the ministry that worked with the diaspora in relation to donations.

“Locally, they can come to the chief executive officer in the individual hospitals,” he told The Gleaner.

erica.virtue@gleanerjm.com