Fri | Jun 5, 2020

Scorn for COVID-19 suspect - Family outraged that hospital turned away elderly doctor with fever, cough

Published:Sunday | March 29, 2020 | 12:31 AMLivern Barrett - Senior Gleaner Writer
Dr Stephen Singh with his grandchildren (above and at left).
Dr Stephen Singh with his grandchildren (above and at left).

When a well-respected Manchester doctor suspected of having COVID-19 turned up at the privately owned Hargreaves Memorial Hospital last Sunday, it sent some nurses into panic mode, causing them to breach the protocols established for the treatment of persons suspected to be infected with the dreaded disease, a senior official has acknowledged.

The admission by Hargreaves Memorial came after the family of Dr Stephen Singh expressed outrage over the treatment they claim was meted out to the popular physician who has been practising in Mandeville for nearly three decades.

The incident and a subsequent voice message that went viral on social media quickly ignited fears among residents in and around the central Jamaica town, where Singh is widely known.

Dr Jason Mungal-Singh, who was a doctor at Hargreaves Memorial but wasn’t there at the time of the incident, revealed that his mother was at the hospital with his father, and described how nurses there refused to treat or even touch him.

“She said there was one particular nurse who was more upset than everybody else, pretty much shouting that ‘this man shouldn’t be here, leave with him!’,” Mungal-Singh recounted during a Sunday Gleaner interview last Friday.

Other nurses, he charged, directed his mother to “put him in yuh car and leave with him”.

“It was very disgusting and very out of order, in terms of their reaction towards him. It was very unethical and very dangerous from a patient management point of view,” said Mungal-Singh, adding that his father could have died because of their actions.

The 71-year-old Dr Singh, who was later admitted to the isolation ward at the May Pen Hospital in Clarendon, has since tested negative for the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and is now resting at home, his family disclosed.

Dr Azzard Comrie, senior medical officer (SMO) at Hargreaves Memorial, told The Sunday Gleaner that Dr Singh was referred there by the health ministry.

“They asked me permission to accept him in our isolation room on the grounds that they heard that he was ill, having cough and fever, and that he had come in contact with known people who had COVID-19,” he disclosed.

Comrie indicated that he examined Singh and conferred with a consultant, who had also examined him the previous day, and said they both came to the conclusion that his illness was “not likely” related to the coronavirus.

Staff in ‘Panic mode’

Notwithstanding this and the coronavirus protocols established by the hospital’s management, he said the information from the Ministry of Health and Wellness sent some of the workers on duty into “panic mode”.

“Everybody started to panic because of what the ministry said, and because of what was inferred by the ministry’s action. I’m not going to dispute that at all,” said the Hargreaves SMO, pointing out that at least one nurse elected to stay with Singh and assisted with his treatment.

He noted, also, that Dr Singh’s presence at Hargreaves caused some health workers to question whether the hospital was following its own protocol, which is that suspected coronavirus cases should be transferred to the public health system.

“The nurses had a right to ask me if we were following the protocol,” he stated.

Comrie conceded that there were some breaches of the hospital’s guidelines for the handling of coronavirus cases, and disclosed that the senior management team is now conducting a complete review of what transpired last Sunday. All employees who were on duty have been asked to submit a report.

“Things were done that should not have been done. Actually, it was a lot, and that’s why I said it was a general panic mode. Everybody got scared, so a number of people were not following the simple protocols,” he said.

“The protocol is there. I can’t tell you I remember every single thing, but I can tell you when I see breaches and I can tell you when I see that they did not follow exactly as they should.”

He added, “So, although some things were done right, other things were not done right, and I have a problem with that, I must have a problem with that.”

FAMILY ANGUISH

Comrie suggested that it was too early to determine whether employees would face disciplinary action, saying a review of the reports requested from staff will determine “where the breaches really were and see if sanctions are necessary”.

He noted, however, that the focus of the review will be on ensuring that healthcare workers at Hargreaves are fully au fait with the coronavirus protocol.

“You cannot just assume that because you give them protocols and you drill them, they are going to get it right,” he underscored.

“When the case comes in, that’s when you realise who is ready and who is not.”

Mungal-Singh, who has since resigned from Hargreaves Memorial, said the incident with his father also triggered a viral social-media message that has caused anguish for some family members, including his three young children.

He said his 10-year-old daughter got the message on her cell phone and had a number of questions.

“She said all of her friends are saying that he [her grandfather] had coronavirus and that he was going to die, and she was worried that she might have the virus, too,” Mungal-Singh said.

livern.barrett@gleanerjm.com