Milton Cato Memorial Hospital. (iWN file photo)

Social and political activist Oscar Allen had attempted to use the media to get the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital (MCMH) to address a situation that had led to the postponement twice of an “urgent” surgical intervention that he needed.

He would die at the same hospital on July 28, a week after receiving the surgery and two weeks after he sent a letter to the hospital administrator and other senior health officials, including Minister of Health, Sen. Luke Browne about the situation at MCMH, the nation’s main healthcare facility.

The postponement of the surgery was due to the absence of one of three anaesthesiologists on staff after the other two fell ill.

Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, who on Monday lead the glowing tribute in Parliament to the 75-year-old fallen activist, his contemporary, whom he described as ““was one of our outstanding sons”.

The prime minister said on radio on Thursday that on June 6, one of the three anaesthesiologists fell ill — “something related to a pregnancy” and on June 9, another fell ill.

This left just one anaesthesiologist at the hospital to deal with critical and elective surgeries.

“So you had one but supported by a number of nurse anaesthetists. Because of the demands, several operations which were planned had to be postponed, because if you have one anaesthesiologist, you are going to deal with emergency and critical cases,” Gonsalves said on WE FM.

Oscar Allen died on at MCMH on July 28, two weeks after he wrote about the postponement of his “urgent” surgery. (iWN file photo)

In his July 14 letter to Grace Walters, hospital administrator at the MCMH, Allen said he was writing, “on what seems a trivial matter of what is in place in terms of personnel at the MCMH operating theatre.

“It troubles me because my own surgery of the large intestine has been twice postponed on consecutive weeks for the same inexcusable reason. How could there be only one anaesthesiologist available carrying the load for emergency as well as elective operations for more than 2 weeks and counting 3?”

Allen, who has spent his life championing issues affecting the poor and working class, said that the situation at the hospital was “stressful and depressing for patients who are due for surgery.

“It is also a frustrating experience for the operating theatre teams who wish to relieve the pathologies that they encounter including nurse anaesthetists who feel disempowered when they have to step back from major surgery cases. Ms. Walters, I have received and accepted the apologies of doctors who have had to turn me away and in one case, after I have been lying just waiting in an out room of the operating theatre”.

Allen said that because of the situation, he better understood “why one on my friends was surprised that I was having surgery done in SVG”.

He said that while a section of the population of St. Vincent and the Grenadines “does not trust the services offered at the MCMH. I however do.

“I expect you Ms. Walters, to remedy this unacceptable deficiency of having only one anaesthesiologist available for duty at the MCMH Operating Theatre. Inattention to this problem could have fatal consequences,” Allen said.

He said he considered that his case “is urgent, as are others, and your responsibility is clear”.

In addition to the health minister, Allen copied his letter to Dr. Simone Keizer-Beache, chief medical officer, and Cuthbert Knights, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Health and the Environment.

But after receiving no response to or acknowledgment of his letter, Allen attempted to use the media to call attention to the situation.

He submitted the letter to at least one local newspaper, saying in a cover note, “Maybe it needs a public exposure for such matters to be rectified, I therefore ask that the attached letter be printed in your newspaper.”

In his comments on Thursday, Gonsalves said that the Chief Medical Officer was seeking to get a short-term solution to the problem at MCMH.

“I told them make whatever short-term arrangements that you want to make and that those arrangements would be financed,” said Gonsalves, who is also Minister of Finance.

Gonsalves said he had called Kingstown’s ambassador to Havana because the Cuban ambassador to St. Vincent is on holidays, and he asked the Vincentian envoy to ask the Cuban authorities to send Kingstown immediately one or two anaesthesiologists.

“Of course, they’d have to be able to speak English, and I’d like to have them yesterday. In other words, a matter of urgency and that is being worked on,” the prime minister said.

He said that the Minister of Health, Luke Browne “is working, too, with the Taiwanese while the CMO is continuing to see if they can get a short-term replacement out of Trinidad.

“And the governor General [of SVG], with whom I spoke on this matter, through the world paediatric contacts that he has … to see if they have anyone they can send on an emergency basis.”

Gonsalves said that he told the Chief Medical Officer that given the recent development at MCMH, four anaesthesiologists are needed “so that in the estimates, we can put another full time anaesthesiologist”.

11 replies on “Activist had warned of ‘fatal consequences’ at hospital where he died”

  1. C. ben-David says:

    Only a hopeless dunce or pathetic loser would say or believe that, “while a section of the population of St. Vincent and the Grenadines does not trust the services offered at the MCMH. I however do.”

  2. C. ben-David says:

    About 15 years ago while I was still a member of my overseas university’s private medical insurance plan, I developed a medical condition while visiting SVG — a large and painful hemorrhoid — for which a local surgeon (who is still in practice here) recommended minor surgery. I called my insurance company’s toll free number, as required, explaining the situation. The next day, I received a call stating that although I would be compensated for the procedure, the overseas physician who reviewed the file recommended that I return home to have it done because of the questionable nature of medical treatment in our homeland.

    I treated the hemorrhoid on my own using “bush medicine” (aloes and ice) and it disappeared by the time I returned overseas.

    The moral of my story is that I might have suffered the same fate as brother Allen had I allowed the local surgeon to excise my hemorrhoid using a scalpel.

    Better to die at home from nature causes than at the MCMH from malpractice.

    1. How did you use the aloe and ice? What’s the method?the lord would bless you if you share your natural healing power with me.
      Thank you.

      1. C. ben-David says:

        Administered aloe paste after reducing the swelling with ice cubes where the sun don’t shine.

  3. There are contract anaesthesiologists and temporary ones available. There are agencies that provide such technicians right here in the Caribbean.

    They just put a little money before the life and death of the citizens and this includes the case put here.

    Now they are all running around in circles, looking to Cuba when they can get a first rate temp right here in the Caribbean, right now. Pay the money and they will be on the first flight in the morning.

    The hospital reels from crisis to crisis, year in, and year out, nothing changes. The citizens suffer while the leaders simply fly out for treatment, no cost to great.

    Now with the airport currently and for the foreseeable future unable to support itself by revenue and income, it can only get worse as more money is diverted from health care to Ralphs folly. Both will suffer they will never have enough money to maintain the airport and all its facilities, just like our hospital.

  4. Is this timeline correct?

    Early June: Two of three anesthesiologists fell ill. As a result, surgical procedures at the hospital had to be delayed and/or postponed. Several times. A wretched situation caused by sheer apathy from an unresponsive management – and, Lord forgive me, caregivers. These people treat surgical patients like if dem was LIAT passengers: go get a cup of coffee and come back later.

    July 28: Oscar Allen dies. Oscar was at the time a patient at the desolate, gutted one-anesthesiologist hospital. The country’s main hospital – a misuse of the word. Oscar died – at their hands. His surgical procedure, despite being “urgent,” was postponed at least twice.

    Early August: The Prime Minister is making local calls begging Cuba to help with “one or two” anesthesiologists, “immediately.” (A tad late for “immediate,” I’d say. If you do not accept that, then check with any of Oscar’s kin. There could well be other grieving kins too, albeit less prominent. Their loss would fall by the (government’s) wayside and swept under “but-we-have-an-international-airport carpet.

    Minister Browne, too, who also missed the “immediate” boat, is belatedly working, this is August, remember, on begging Taiwan for anesthesiologist donations.

    If that timeline is about right, what did Oscar expect. Wait. He told us.

    Wanna bet no big shot government man, or kin, was dey pun the postponement schedule. Else “immediate” would have been more immediate.

    1. Minister Luke the Fluke is after-all a special contributor of spite and malice towards you and your company. But he simply cannot get the better of a brave hearted man like yourself.

      He should resign over this matter and much much more that is wrong under his watch.

  5. Anthony Stewart says:

    When scholarships are awarded this year, two should be for the study of anesthesiology, two for psychiatry, two for medical equipment repair
    , and two for geriatric care so that those of us who have already made our contribution to this country can retire in ease.

  6. SVG badly in need of a hospital. What we have there is a slaughter house, you go in and come out dead. Prime Minister, health officials and all this is priority.
    I lost my mom there in 4 days. My mom said to me I don’t want to go to that hospital because you die there and I insist that she go because she was in a lot of pain, in the mean while I was trying to get a flight for her to bring her to the US but she was gone in a matter of 4 days and now I live with the guilt of making her go to that hospital.
    #SLAUGHTERHOUSE.

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