Jamaica Observer:- THERE is fear and apprehension at the Savanna-la-Mar Public General Hospital in Westmoreland as criminals have repeatedly tried to gain entry to the premises to complete hit jobs, forcing the hospital administration onto the back foot.
“In one attempt there was someone trying to gain entry in the hospital to visit a patient who was shot and when he was turned away by the security guards, no less later he was murdered at the hospital gate and relieved of a firearm,” stated Senior Medical Officer of Health at the institution, Dr Alfred Dawes. “When I personally spoke to the patient he tried to get to, the patient told me he knows who the person is and he knows for a fact that he was coming there to finish him off.”
Dr Dawes added: “We had a young girl who was a witness to a murder who was shot and had to be hidden in a section of the hospital while she was being treated. From time to time we have to be hiding patients in different sections of the hospital under police guard. We have had situations where two separate gang leaders were in hospital at the same time and had to be kept in separate locations while undergoing treatment. The security providers are inadequate, the police presence is only periodic. It is not sustained when there is a flare-up and the hospital goes into lockdown where we restrict visitors and barricade entrances normally used by staff and patients.”
Subsequently, the senior medical officer said that there is a direct security threat and due to the upsurge in shootings and murders, it has affected the service delivery at the hospital.
“We have had to keep patients suffering from strokes or seizures in wheelchairs because beds are short in the Accident and Emergency Department when the trauma cases come in. That is unacceptable in any country but we cannot do any better at all and it is a disaster waiting to happen,” Dr Dawes said.
Reports surfaced last week that the parish was being overrun by criminal elements who have migrated from the adjoining crime-infested parish of St James, now under a state of emergency, but were denied by the newly appointed Divisional Commander for the Westmoreland Police, Superintendent Gary McKenzie.
In an interview with Observer West last week, he said that among top priorities is to restore law and order in communities that are overrun by criminals.
“There are three main areas: the Savanna-la-Mar space, which includes the Dester, Dallin Street areas; and Morgan’s Bridge (police area), which includes Frome, Little London to a lesser extent; and Negril, especially Red Ground, and we have to focus on the West End to a lesser extent in that particular space,” McKenzie had stated, adding that since the start of the year there have been instances where criminal issues are being perpetrated by gangs in certain areas in the parish.”
He went on to point out that separate from the feuding factions in the troubled Westmoreland communities, the police in the parish have had to be grappling with imported shooters and displaced thugs.
In another report, however, McKenzie said that while there is an increase in crime in the parish, it is not true that Westmoreland is being overrun by hoodlums.
But Dr Dawes fired back saying the Westmoreland police chief is oblivious to the happenings and if the parish, which has recorded approximately 50 murders since the start of the year, is not being overrun by hoodlums, then its residents are “shooting themselves”.
“Even though the murders are what people are focusing on, we are seeing a lot of shootings that are coming in on a steady stream. It is draining the resources of the hospital, the staff are stressed and the patients and staff are afraid of what is happening around them, so to basically say the place is okay is misleading,” Dr Dawes said.
“The elective surgery list is growing. People cannot get their surgery because we have to be housing victims of gunshots in the recovery area of the theatre in a makeshift ICU until we can transfer them out to a proper ICU. We have even had to use the anaesthetic machine to keep patients alive when they should be used to allow patients to do elective surgeries. Even though we had an increase in the number of surgeries last year, there is going to be a decrease this year because the majority of the resources are going into treating emergencies. The problem is not just a one shooting, sometimes three or four people are coming in one time and it can be considered a mass casualty as it depletes our blood bank and resources at the hospital. We don’t have enough doctors on duty in a specific shift to cover all shootings and not enough staff period – not enough nurses, doctors and support staff in the labs to deal with this when they come in,” he said.
Regarding safety and security in the parish and the hospital, Dr Dawes had one question for the authorities: “Sav lives don’t matter?”
Moreover, one business owner in the parish said the sentiments shared by Dr Dawes is not “fake news” and is sadly becoming a daily occurrence.
“Last time I heard on radio we had the third highest number of murders in the island, so how can you say that we don’t have a problem?” asked veteran businessman and former Member of Parliament Russell Hammond. “Hospital patients have to be pushed aside in order to deal with gunshots. While you have reduction of murders in St James, it has not disappeared as those criminals have migrated into Westmoreland. They are the ones who have created the problem.”
Hammond said that the crime problem has forced him to close his business place one hour early as his staff have expressed fear for their lives.
“I have a business and I have operated for 44 years and I would really hope we don’t have this kind of crisis. I have to be closing a shop in Grange Hill an hour earlier because of the staff who are scared. I have to postpone one of my promotional events in Sav because the employees are scared to go home at night,” he said.
Hammond added that giving the impression that there is no serious criminal activity in the parish will only create a situation where the Commissioner of Police and other decision makers remain convinced that additional security support in Westmoreland is not needed.