Health centre plunged into darkness

STAFF and patients of the Greater Portmore Health Centre in St Catherine were forced to bear extreme temperatures for over three days as the facility was without electricity from Monday afternoon.

When the Jamaica Observer arrived at the health centre’s location after 10 on Thursday morning, a few patients could be seen milling around on the outside of the compound and a handful were inside sitting on benches waiting to be seen.

To escape the sweltering heat, staff members had to seek refuge outside in the shade provided by trees to cater to the patients.

One staff member, who was overheard commenting how hot she was, told the Observer that the light went out on Monday at around 1:00 pm and the staff had to improvise in order to continue carrying out their duties.

“We can’t pull any records because in the office is dark and hot. So we have to be working from under a tree. Persons who come in, the doctor has to see them in the waiting area because the offices are hot. No privacy is there because the doctor has to talk to you out in the open,” she said.

She confirmed that clinics have still been held since the electricity went, but on a much smaller scale, pointing out that patients can fill their prescriptions and get their medications as the pharmacy, which has a backup generator, was able to continue with normal operations.

A patient who came to get his prescription filled said he was not really impacted as “everything is smooth over that side”.

Another visibly upset patient said that she has been turned back twice between Wednesday and Thursday because “they couldn’t pull dockets, they couldn’t do anything at all. The doctor couldn’t see anybody and was sending people to other health centres”.

“That’s just not good enough,” she said.

Another staff member said that while some patients had to be turned away and sent to other facilities in the parish, depending on the nature of the services sought, “we are still seeing patients, still doing Pap smears and all those things, even though we have to be holding a flashlight for them to see to do the Pap smear”. Some appointments, however, had to be rescheduled.

There was speculation by some patients that the light was disconnected because the bill wasn’t paid, but Lisa, a vendor who has been operating from that facility for over 20 years, rubbished that claim, noting that she witnessed a fire on the light pole at the front of the building.

She said on Monday afternoon she smelt something burning, and “when I looked, it was the meter box on the light post blazing”.

“We called the Jamaica Public Service Company Limited [JPS] and the nurse called the fire brigade, but the pharmacy technician came out and used the fire extinguisher to put it out. So when the fire brigade came the fire was already extinguished,” she said.

When JPS assessed the damage it was revealed that the wiring needed to be changed and an electrician needed to do rewiring and recertification before the electricity could be reconnected.

The electrician, who had just completed his work, explained to the Observer that JPS asked that the building be recertified based on the nature of what took place and what they presumed took place. “I got it recertified. JPS has the compliance certificate and the last communication I got is that the company had mobilised their team to do the reconnection,” he said.

While still on location, the Observer saw a JPS vehicle entering the compound and a team alighted to carry out the required works. The electricity was subsequently restored about 1:00 pm on Thursday.

In the meantime, there were multiple calls by staff, patients, and other concerned citizens for a backup generator to be placed at the facility.

“It would be good if the public can come together…along with politicians, and give the health centre a generator…It just look a way for us not to have that and then the patients have to be suffering when the light goes,” Lisa said.