Bathrooms in public hospitals a health hazard for patients
A need to use the bathroom at one of the main public hospitals in western Jamaica while there on a medical emergency proved too much for Sandra*. As ill and desperate as she was, the stench and nasty state churned her stomach so much, she would...
A need to use the bathroom at one of the main public hospitals in western Jamaica while there on a medical emergency proved too much for Sandra*.
As ill and desperate as she was, the stench and nasty state churned her stomach so much, she would have welcomed nearby bushes to relieve herself.
Across the island at another Type A institution, the situation was not much different for Janice*. Her search for a semi-decent facility only resulted in missing toilet seats, wet and dirty floors, no tissue, no running water, broken bathroom doors, and a gut-wrenching odour.
Right across the island, reports of deplorable conditions of bathrooms and restrooms at some of Jamaica’s busiest public hospitals and health centres put both staff and patients at serious health risks.
In some cases, it comes down to shoddy janitorial services; while others reek of poor maintenance. Users of the facilities are also blamed for the shabby conditions, as some make it a habit to “steal” everything they can, unconcerned about the state they leave behind and others needing to use them.
A Sunday Gleaner probe last week canvassing 14 bathroom facilities at seven hospitals and four health centres islandwide unearthed some unsanitary results.
No water to flush toilets
It was indeed a messy mix of broken toilet bowls, sinks and pipes; wet, mucky floors, some with cardboard and newspaper spread to soak up the mess; broken bathroom doors; no water to flush toilets or wash hands; no toilet paper, soap or hand towels; detached fixtures that hang ominously over those who dare enter; and a stench emanating from some. Some lacked piped water, while others teemed with mould and grime.
The restroom inside the Accident and Emergency Unit at the Savanna-la-Mar Public General Hospital in Westmoreland, which staff argued has long exceeded its capacity to serve the growing community, seemed most despicable.
Last Wednesday, only one of the toilets inside the men’s section worked. Some males were directed to the female section to relieve themselves and to also wash their hands, as no water runs through the pipes on the men’s side.
Visitors must also be wary of a dangling stall door inside the men’s restroom, and exercise caution amid a tight squeeze in the female section, as men, women and children jostled for the convenience, ignoring COVID-19 sanitation and social distance signs nearby.
Like at many of the facilities visited, there was no tissue or soap, and another restroom near the maternity ward offered little solace to users with its missing wall tiles, toilet seat covers on the floor, and a section used for untidy cardboard storage. The face basin was unsightly.
WESTERN REGIONAL HEALTH AUTHORITY (WRHA)
“You are now calling me, the regional director, to highlight this stuff to me, right?” St Andrade Sinclair, regional director of the Western Regional Health Authority (WRHA), retorted to The Sunday Gleaner on Friday, when the findings were presented to him about institutions under his watch.
“I have never, ever heard anything like what you are talking about. I think you need to speak to the CEO of the hospitals.”
When first contacted, Camille Lewin, chief executive officer at the Savanna-la-Mar Hospital, said she was also unfamiliar with the issues, “but when things are brought to our attention, they are dealt with promptly, and we will be addressing these that you have mentioned if it is found to be so”.
However, after an examination of the areas yesterday, she told the newspaper that “whilst the areas were cleaned, there are a few things that need improvements which we will act upon”.
Their responses come as Jamaicans have taken to social media up to last week, highlighting the conditions of the Type A hospital.
“The bathroom condition of the Savanna-la-Mar Public General Hospital is really disgusting. There are no seats on any of the toilet bowls in the vicinity and patients have to use bathrooms on a daily basis,” one social media user complained more than a week ago.
“I really think something should be done about this, as it could spread a lot of bacteria and illnesses,” continued the post that sparked heavy discussion, racking up hundreds of views, with others sharing their own experiences.
“If the men were not in their section, I would go in there,” a frustrated elderly lady at a restroom at the Mount Salem Clinic in Montego Bay remarked last week to The Sunday Gleaner team, after realising most of the toilets in the female section were not working.
“I don’t know how you have toilets and they are not working,” she added.
She was among 13 women jostling to use the restroom, which had buckets and mops used to clean the place stored in the shower area, The Sunday Gleaner observed.
Over by the male section, a woman in a wheelchair was assisted into one of the cubicles. This, as an elderly man casually relieved himself in a bottle standing beside an out-of-service urinal. It was barred by metal chairs. Inside, dirty pieces of cardboard twisted with water on the floor into a slush, and in this section, a shower was used for storing cleaning equipment.
At the Cornwall Regional Hospital, checks at a restroom on the C Block revealed unflushed toilets, missing toilet covers, and general misuse of the facility.
“There can be a little hiatus in between cleaning periods because we make sure we have frequent cleaning because of the high volume we have to deal with,” explained Dr Delroy Fray, clinical coordinator of the WRHA. “We have to have round-the-clock cleaning of the restrooms, so I will not accept what you saw. We also have nurse supervisors who constantly monitor.”
Probably the saving grace for the WRHA was the Type C Noel Holmes Hospital in Lucea, Hanover, where the news team was greeted by fresh lemon scents in well-maintained restrooms at the outpatient department. One seat cover was missing in the male bathroom, but soap, water and tissue were provided for users.
Promising to look into the findings from The Sunday Gleaner probe, Lennox Wallace, parish manager for the St James Health Services, stressed the high standards that health facilities must maintain.
He said that at minimum, each parish must have a designated specialist who monitors the facilities. It was not clear if that was the case last week.
SOUTHERN AND SOUTH EAST REGIONAL HEALTH AUTHORITIES
Sanitation conditions at public health facilities fared a little better as The Sunday Gleaner probe moved eastward.
Still, missing and broken bathroom fixtures, water issues and lack of soap and tissue dogged the May Pen Hospital in Clarendon; the Spanish Town Hospital in St Catherine; and the Kingston Public and the Victoria Jubilee hospitals in Kingston.
“So dem people here can’t employ one plumber!?” exclaimed a man inside one restroom near the X-ray department at the May Pen Hospital.
There, the taps for two sinks were not working. The handwashing option was to engage a leaking ‘lock-off’ under the sink and rub hands there, which only added to the mess.
At the Accident and Emergency Unit at the Spanish Town Hospital and at a Drug Serv outlet and clinic nearby, the story of missing toilet bowl covers and inoperable taps continued. Most were clean to the eye, however, similar to two bathrooms visited at the outpatient unit at the Kingston Public Hospital (KPH) and the Victoria Jubilee Hospital.
But infrastructural maintenance remained a problem.
THEY STEAL EVERYTHING
“As fast as we put them on (toilet seats), they steal them and break them off. If you find toilets in any hospital or health centre without toilet seats, it is because they steal them off. It is a common thing,” charged Errol Greene, director of the South East Regional Health Authority (SERHA).
“They also steal out the flapper balls, they steal out other components of the toilets, and they steal the toilet paper. At some places, you will see the damaged things in which we locked them. People come with bottles and as fast as we put in the liquid soap, they steal them,” he continued, noting that most hospitals in his region are responsible for their own cleaning.
“KPH, Spanish Town and Bustamante are the only ones where we would outsource the cleaning,” he said, unable to provide the costs of such services.
KPH CEO Colin Cooper said that he plans to explore more automated restroom toilet options in the coming financial year, with the aim to upgrade the toilets at one of the main Type A hospitals in the Caribbean to ones with more sturdy moving components.
“So they (toilets) wouldn’t have that little flush handle that would be on the tank itself. That gets damaged quite often because of pressure from the different users,” he reasoned with The Sunday Gleaner. “We also lose some of those flush handles, too, because we find evidence where people might use their feet to flush the toilets.”
Noting that bathrooms are monitored at half-hour intervals, Cooper said, “In the high-population areas and days like on Tuesdays and Thursdays when most clinics are full, we find that there is a high percentage of usage and, therefore, the frequency of monitoring must be reassessed.”