Prior to entering any Grand Bahama Health Services (GBHS) operational clinic, members of the public are required to be pre-screened by medical professionals.
Pre-screening involves the person, who may or may not present themselves to see a doctor, being required to disclose their names, phone contact and home address as well have their temperature checked. If their temperature reading is at a normal level, they are asked to use the hand sanitizers provided or wash their hands at the hand washing station.
According to Grand Bahama Health Services (GBHS) Administrator, Sharon Williams, the measure to pre-screen members of the public was enacted locally, following the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in New Providence Sunday, March 15.
While there has been no confirmed case of the deadly virus on Grand Bahama, the GBHS is adopting proactive measures prior to the highly contagious respiratory disease, inevitably, presenting itself on the island.
“The minister (Dr. Duane Sands, Health Minister) in addressing us over the past month of so, has reiterated that ‘not if, but when.’ As a part of the public health system, Grand Bahama Health Services is mandated by the Ministry of Health to implement our mitigation efforts to control any possible spread of the disease within the community of Grand Bahama and, the surrounding Cays.
“Of course, in doing that we are exercising extreme caution in managing our public, our staff and our facilities. This means that any one who enters our facilities for any reason, need to be pre-screened before they enter any of our facilities. That is done so that if there is a possibility of the patient having COVID-19, then we might catch anything before it spreads further. We want to have that pre-screening so we can catch sight of persons, ask them the relevant questions and be able to put plans in place for mitigation,” said Williams.
Questioned when pre-screening requirement was implemented, Williams replied, “As soon as the minister announced the first case of COVID-19. We went into our pre-screening at our various areas, as is the mandate and the plan.”
Williams continued, “Also, we have been dealing with the various agencies on the island to make sure that they are supported in their efforts. The GBHS, since January and since the spread of COVID-19 became a world concern; we activated our public education plan. Additionally, we liaised with the Ministry of Health and the Public Hospitals Authority (PHA), in the public education efforts via electronic media and our local medias.
“We have been going into the community, into various agencies and having talks with the relevant partners and any external agencies who have concerns on how they should manage in this instance – with their staff and with their clientele. We have done the mass public education; we have also gone into preparation for port surveillances – that is surveillance efforts at the airport, container ports and at some of the ports where our private ships come in.”
Explaining the port surveillances Williams said, “Before the case confirmation in The Bahamas, we were doing port screening in conjunction with the various areas. What that means is, we liaise with immigration and if they have a concern based on their findings, they call us. Once we have an identified case (now in New Providence) then that means that we have to go into active screenings which means that we have to have physical health persons at various ports, at certain times when those passengers are coming in.
“That is what we are preparing for at this moment. We are working with them in putting up tents at the port, where our persons can work from to screen. We are also working with the various agencies to give advice on management and through the ministry, announcing closure of various ports and sites to be able to control mass public gatherings that can be a possible spread for this disease.
“Grand Bahama is cognizant that we are small, close-knitted, so we (GBHS) always want to be as proactive as possible in making sure we have mitigations in place. We also recognize the impartment of our physical facility and so, we have to make sure, as much as possible, our public is as healthy as possible.”
Pre-screenings are taking place at all of the clinics that are opened on the island, revealed Williams.
“The majority of them (facilities) you will see tents set up in front of the clinics, which means that we are doing our prescreening. Even if you do not see tents that means that the population of persons now coming into the clinic are intermittent, so we screen as they come in,” she informed.
She added that where there may be potential for mass gatherings at the clinics, “We do that pre-screening. Where there is a small clinic with only one or two persons coming in at a time, it is easier to screen that person, once they come in.”
Williams noted that a number of the health services clinics have been suspended temporarily, to avoid large gatherings in public places which is now been prohibited under the Emergency Orders, which went into effect on Friday, March 20.
“What we have also done to support this effort is to cancel a number of our clinics. We have done a number of cancellations because of course, when we have clinics there is a mass grouping of persons. We want to ensure that we practice what we preach. While we have cancelled a number of clinics, we have to still make sure that there are facilities available for the public to come to if they have health care concerns, hence the pre-screening upon entry.”
Asked how residents are responding to the new procedure, Williams said, “Our residents have been responding very positively, because they recognize that we are not doing this to keep them out of the facility; we are doing this to keep everyone in the facilities and our communities as safe as possible.
“For instance, they know when they come to screen we are not screening them because we simply do not want them in. We are screening them to ensure that they are OK and if they are not, we identify that as quickly as possible so that we can protect their families at home. That is the first instance, protecting their families at home. We can stop it if there is a concern … the spread to other families within the communities.”
For those persons visiting loved ones confined to hospital, Williams noted, “When we screen them, before they can visit their relatives, they recognize that we do not want them to bring anything into their relatives who are within the facility. God forbid they come in and cause a contamination not only within the facility, but for their relatives. We also have to make sure that our staff on the front line are protected as much as possible, because if they are contaminated and become ill, who will be there to take care of everyone else?”
All staff must be screened prior to entering any of the facilities, including doctors and nurses; no one is exempt, she informed.
“Even our staff are subject to the stringent screening as the public. If a staff member has traveled off island; if they have gone to a place of concern, upon return, they will be screened and will likewise be asked to self-isolate or get quarantined if there is a cause for concern,” concluded Williams.