Doctors’ Union, Govt. dispute

Grand Bahama Health Services (GBHS) Administrator, Sharon Williams is hoping that the Doctors’ Union and the Government of The Bahamas come to some resolution over issues and concerns voiced by doctors in the capital, sooner rather than later.

Recently, doctors engaged by the Public Hospital Authority (PHA) voiced concerns as it relates to a number of grievances they have in Nassau, which forced many of them to stage a strike.

This daily had the opportunity to speak with Williams, yesterday – Wednesday, October 10 – on whether she foresees the strike action in the capital having an effect on services at the Rand Memorial Hospital.

“The Minister of Health (Dr. Duane Sands) and The Bahamas Government have been working with the Doctors Union and listening to various issues that have been presented and we, in the health care system, most of us are hoping that between the various parties, that they can come to some resolution as soon as possible.

“Certainly, with doctors being out of the system, whether they are striking or staying at home, of course, that does pose an issue with respect to the delivery of health care. We know that in most instances to provide effective health care, you need that physician to lead the team to, at least, be able to diagnose and provide prognoses for the care of our clients.

“We rely on them for the direction of health care within the community so, yes, there will be some impact for the Grand Bahama community if our physicians decide to sit out. We are relying on them to talk more; communication is key. We are relying on them to sit at the tables, so we can resolve whatever issues that are challenging them,” said Williams.

She noted that doctors are voicing various concerns, among them pay issues, which Williams noted is always at the top of the list. “They are voicing concerns that we all also have with the system, in terms of the facilities and the environment that they work in. We try very hard in management, with the budgets that are entrusted to us, to weigh between the immediate needs of the system and needs that can wait and sometimes that is a challenge.”

Additionally, she shared that while there are issues that many would like to have rectified expeditiously, it is important to note and be mindful of the fact that with the cost of optimum health care far out-weighing the annual revenue collected within the GBHS, oftentimes, due to persons that are in a position to pay registration fees and the like (a requirement for employable persons) to be seen by doctors, many, unfortunately, do not. The lack of revenue in those instances has posed a serious problem for the GBHS.

“The cost of health care for our community is very high. For instance, our budget that we (GBHS) get is some $30-plus million and our intake is usually below $3 million a year, in terms of the revenue that we collect.

“In many instances, we know that there are persons that cannot pay for health care and the policies of the Government of The Bahamas says that we cannot deny health care to anyone that is in need of health care. We are very cognizant of this, and we support those policies, but there are persons within our community who have the capacity to pay that $10, but they are asking for registration, but for some reason they refuse to pay,” said Williams. “We have persons who present to us, with insurance and for some reason they neglect to present their insurance, which is the purpose of having it, to be able to pay for health care.”

Questioned if persons claiming their inability to pay for health care services has been an ongoing issue that the GBHS has faced or is its one that has arisen in recent times, William responded, “We recognize the recession, and the GBHS and The Bahamas Government is always in place and will always put systems in place to support the citizens that need help. We try, as much as possible, to effectively screen our clients to determine those that really need help. But that is a challenge in some instances, because you do not know the true needs with respect to persons. We can only ask them, in terms of whether they are working or not.

“We are not pointing to those persons who really need help, we are pointing to those persons who really have a job and can do better. I am asking them to support their health care system. We want to be able to provide as effective care as possible, in the best environment that is possible but we will never be able to do that if we cannot have sufficient funding to be able to do so.”

With respect to the Out Patients’ Department of the Rand Memorial Hospital being relocated across the street from the former IAT Building, Williams explained the reason behind the move.

“What is happening is that our Out Patients’ Department was in a temporary location. We had that service from 4:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., because during the day we had to use the facilities for Specialty Clinics. So, in order to expand the time, we have now relocated to the old IAT Building.

“We have now expanded that time from 12:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. and so we now have an eight hour stretch, as opposed to the four-to-five hours we had previously, to provide outpatient and walk-in care, to our clients.

“The intention is to be able to have that service where persons who are experiencing minor ailments walk in, but more importantly, to encourage health and wellness; that means we want you to come to the doctor before you become ill. It is a health and wellness concept that we want to push within our society.

“Come and get your yearly check, come and get your immunizations for adults and kids, so we can practice more preventative care and healthier lifestyle practices. We want, eventually, to expand our service from 8:00 a.m. until 10:00 p.m. We will do so incrementally throughout the next year, as we get the resources to do so,” concluded Williams.

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