NAJ president wants special COVID award for nurses
Patsy Edwards-Henry, president of the Nurses’ Association of Jamaica (NAJ), is calling for a special award to be created to recognise and honour nurses who have gone above and beyond the call of duty in managing the COVID-19 pandemic.
In an interview with The Gleaner on Tuesday, Edwards-Henry said she wants the award to be created in time for the 2022 staging of the National Honours and Awards ceremony, which highlights Jamaicans from various walks of life for acts of bravery or outstanding contributions of service in their fields of expertise.
“We recommend nurses every year for the National Awards held in October, and even this year, there must be one or two nurses who are to be recommended. If we look at how hard the nurses are working in the COVID-19 environment, we need to have a national award next year for COVID alone, to honour some of these nurses who are on the front line,” said Edwards-Henry.
This year’s list of National Honours awardees includes Lilian Lucella Bent-Miller, who will receive the Order of Distinction in the rank of Officer for service in the field of nursing. Last year, Eula Hyacinth Ritchie was awarded the Order of Distinction in the rank of Commander Class for exceptional service in the midwifery and nursing profession in Jamaica and the Caribbean; while Sheena Lindo-Kerr got the Badge of Honour for meritorious service to public health as a nurse.
Edwards-Henry said that of all members of the healthcare sector, nurses have the most direct and frequent interactions with patients and other hospital clients, which would put them most at risk of contracting the coronavirus.
“All healthcare workers are at risk, but if you look at statistics and research and you look at contact hours within any healthcare facility, it is the nurse who has the most contact hours with clients and patients at all times, more than any other healthcare worker. We spend much more time in the toxic environment, and when other persons come and go, nurses are always there,” said Edwards-Henry.
“The nurse is the least valued member of the healthcare team, and I say that without reservation, as we are the least valued professional group. So we need to have a COVID award to honour some of the nurses who are out there making sure that the nation is safe,” Edwards-Henry explained.
Her proposal comes less than a month after Prime Minister Andrew Holness shot down calls from the NAJ for measures to be put in place so that healthcare workers will be prioritised for treatment and access to ventilators if they contract COVID-19 while on the job.
Since August, several nurses have died after contracting COVID-19, of which 77,497 infections and 1,757 deaths have been recorded since the virus’ outbreak in March 2020. The most recent nurse casualties are Sudeen Lyn Fatt Colquhoun, a mental-health nurse at the Black River Hospital in St Elizabeth, and Donnette Gray-Morris, a nurse manager for the dialysis unit at the Cornwall Regional Hospital in St James, who both died on the weekend.
Prior to those deaths, Annette White-Best, a nurse at the Percy Junor Hospital in Mandeville, Manchester, died from COVID-19 complications last month, being the first nurse in Jamaica to die from the virus. Her death was followed by the August 31 passing of Diagrea Cunningham, a supervisor for the paediatric and accident and emergency wards at the Savanna-la-Mar Hospital in Westmoreland.