Cornwall Regional dispute a personnel issue, says senior doc

MONTEGO BAY, St James — An absence of the relevant personnel is said to be the cause of the present hiring dispute at the Cornwall Regional Hospital (CRH), senior medical officer of the institution Dr Derek Harvey has said.

The dispute, which is stemming from a career advertisement that was published in the latter part of last year in a local newspaper by the Western Regional Health Authority (WRHA), sought the services of qualified individuals to fill a number of positions available at the hospital. It advertised employment opportunities for medical doctors at different levels such as consultants, senior residents, and medical officers across 10 specialities.

However, Dr Harvey told the Jamaica Observer that these positions are yet to be filled more than a month later as both he and a human resource person were out of office.

“I was off for the last eight weeks — I had a personal vacation as well as I had gone off on a government work programme to do with Cornwall. My colleague, who I tend to discuss these matters with at the [Western Regional Health] Authority, she was also off at the time, although she had somebody deputising,” Dr Harvey said.

“We would usually get together with the HR department and try to have things put in place for early January. I suspect what has happened is that because I was not there, she was not there, and the Christmas period came in, there is some amount of delay,” he reasoned.

According to Dr Harvey, though an emergency, the current hiring dispute and issues concerning a lack of adequate manpower are “not unique to Cornwall Regional”.

“I think this thing is a little bit overplayed at the moment. At this time of the year, usually what happens is that you have a change of staff. What has happened is that some people have completed their SHO [senior house officer] year and some have signed up for postgraduate programmes, therefore they have gone off to The University of West Indies to continue their studies,” he explained.

However, one doctor employed by CRH told the Sunday Observer that the lack of manpower has been forcing the current workers into survival mode. The doctor went on to chide the facility’s human resource department for what he believes is placing patients at risk of receiving compromised care.

“The fact that we are in this situation again is absolutely inexcusable. It happened in July and here we are in January … the same story. It is clear that HR either does not understand their job description or they simply don’t care. The process isn’t new, it happens every year: doctors rotate between primary care and the hospital, and contracts end and need to be renewed,” said the doctor.

He added, “So if the process isn’t new, why wasn’t the job done? A burned-out doctor [and] a rested doctor can be the difference between life and death for a patient. I guess because HR personnel aren’t the ones working for 48 or 56 hours straight, they don’t see the urgency.”

Pointing to the career advertisement, the doctor complained that he is of the belief that steps have not been taken to either employ new personnel or replace the ones who have resigned from various departments and specialities.

“You mean to tell me that we are buckling at the knees with the staff shortage and you can’t even say when you are going to hold job interviews? Unacceptable! We need staff now,” the doctor told the Sunday Observer.

Dr Harvey, however, rebutted the doctor’s claims that there has not been enough effort to adequately staff the health facility. He told the Sunday Observer that he has been attempting to play catch up with this staffing issue since returning to work last week.

“You have to be aware that people are attending different medical schools from within our country and outside of our country who also will be seeking jobs. But the thing is that the system cannot absorb that, and that is something which we will have to address long term,” said Dr Harvey.

“I don’t think it is a matter of the region not employing people. I would say that there has been a certain amount of delay…and hopefully we’ll have the matter resolved by next week in terms of having personnel in some of these posts,” he added.

“I have been getting my team together since Monday when I got back to see how we can get the doctors. I have been focusing on my interns and they are now sorted out, for the most part. Now I have moved on to the second grade, which is the SHOs, and then we’re moving on to the medical officers,” the senior medical officer said.

In spite of that, Dr Harvey acknowledged that the published career advertisement has caused some level of confusion among prospective employees and those already hoping to see additional manpower be brought into the hospital.

“I think that has put some mud in the water because the question is: ‘Was this advertisement put in place to create additional posts or to replace personnel?’ Based on my information it’s a little bit confusing, but I think it’s a mixture of both. I think…at the time there was a crisis in terms of personnel being available, so they were looking out,” he told the Sunday Observer.

Calling for Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton’s immediate intervention into the hiring dispute is Opposition spokesperson on Health and Wellness Dr Morais Guy who pointed to its looming negative implications. In a statement released on Friday, Dr Guy noted that the career advertisement had placed the issue at the forefront and, according to him, the management of CRH has flatly rejected the applications, stating that there were no vacancies at the institution to accommodate the doctors.

“It is evident that there is a disconnect between the WRHA and the CRH regarding the hospital’s need at this time, and therefore the minister must intervene to resolve the issue”, Dr Guy stated.

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