Hope fading in fight to save sight
Desperate woman hits multiple hurdles trying to access surgery
A 54-year-old Westmore-land woman is desperately fighting to save her fading eyesight after reportedly getting the runaround for one year while seeking medical intervention in the public-health system.
Juliana Blair, a resident of Little London, told The Gleaner that she has not been able to receive timely surgery to prevent her from going blind as for five months, the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI) reportedly had her returning for laser treatment then informed her that the machine had broken down.
Blair, who is diabetic and hypertensive, was referred to the St Andrew-based hospital by a private ophthalmologist in Savanna-la-Mar in July 2021. However, she was unable to find the money to travel across the island until six months later.
“I went to UHWI in December 2021, and they registered me [and] gave us an appointment to return in January, but when we [returned], they said they couldn’t do the laser treatment that day. I was given an appointment to come back in two weeks. [I] went back, and they said I should come back in February. Same thing happened again: come back April 25th,” Blair told The Gleaner.
The former security guard has been forced to go on early retirement from her job of 28 years.
Her daughter, Shana-Kay Blair, said that although the $27,000 fee had been paid for the treatment, by the month of April, five months after getting various excuses as to why they could not see the doctor on five 420-kilometre round trips, after waiting for several hours, they were told that the machine had broken down.
Blair was then referred by UHWI doctors to the eye clinic at the Cornwall Regional Hospital (CRH), but then came another stumbling block: getting the refund to pay for the service at the Montego Bay-based hospital.
“We were told it would take six to eight weeks for the refund,” Shana-Kay said.
By this time, Blair needed help to walk as her sight had now badly deteriorated, and after missing so many days at work, she had to retire.
Shana-Kay was also missing several days at work to care for her mom.
Her siblings chipped in, she said, with her sister, Judy Blair, who resides in Kingston, making her apartment available whenever they took the long ride from Westmoreland, racking up some $250,000 in transportation, food, and other expenses just going back and forth.
Blair has accepted that the laser treatment will not restore her eyesight because of her diabetic condition.
“But it can save what vision she has left, and that is our hope. That is what we have been told,” said Shana-Kay.
After arriving at 9 a.m. on their first visit to the CRH, they were told by a security guard that the eye clinic had stopped taking referrals for the day.
“I was shocked, asking him what he meant. He said people were there from 5 and 4 o’clock and we have to reach in time,” said Shana-Kay.
She said that when they asked to speak to someone in charge, the security guard said he could not allow it.
The second time, they left home at 5 a.m., the earliest possible time for them to get out of their area, and reached the clinic by 8:20 a.m. This time, they received ticket No. 98, owing to the fact that Blair had an appointment card.
Still, they had no luck, and a doctor gave them a December 7, 2022, date to return. It was also suggested that they seek to get the operation done privately if they could not wait.
They had now come full circle as the private practice recommended was the one they had originally visited, which offers the treatment for $50,000 per eye.
The duo expressed frustration that each time they went to the hospital, they were told that the clinic closed at 1 p.m. However, when contacted by The Gleaner, Western Regional Health Authority clinical coordinator Dr Delroy Fray said this should not be happening.
He also promised to look into Blair’s case.
“I have not been able to find a docket for Mrs Blair, but I will assure she gets care by January 11 when the clinic reopens,” he said when contacted for a follow-up.
Fray also expressed concerns about the fact that security guards were so involved in patient care, noting that he had spoken with the hospital’s chief executive officer about the situation.
Several questions sent by The Gleaner to the UHWI were not answered up to press time.
Shana-Kay believes that her mom has been shafted by the system.
“One o’clock is not even half of the day properly because people are leaving from as far as Westmoreland. This is a health system, a hospital. People are coming for help, usually a life-and-death situation, so something needs to be done to rectify the matter,” she lamented as she broke down in tears.