Antigua: Hospital nurses claim ‘toxic’ workplace is destroying their mental health and tearing families apart 


Exclusive by Shermain Bique-Charles for Observer Newsco


Several nurses employed at the Sir Lester Bird Medical Centre (SLBMC) have taken concerns ranging from preferential treatment to personal safety to the media, after what they said are repeated attempts to get redress from the Ministry of Health.

A letter sent to Observer and endorsed by around a dozen nurses described the hospital as a “cult”, claiming only certain staff are allowed to do as they please.

They say the scales are not balanced and haven’t been so for a very long time.

These health care practitioners claim they are exposed to Covid-infected patients and are expected to provide nursing care without knowledge of a patient’s diagnosis. They allege that when a positive Covid test result is received, the favoured staff are asked to remain home and isolate while the remainder are required to care for the infected person.

Payment is another bone of contention for these nurses who claimed that some received payment for caring for Covid patients while others who cared for the same patients did not.

“Staff in SLBMC received large sums of money for the care of Covid patients, some were able to buy a house and vehicle while nurses were not paid, not even one cent.

“Doctors get paid to test patients for Covid while nurses who did the same procedure were not paid.

“Nurses nursed Covid patients and we spend the most time with the patient; others refused to go into the client’s/patient’s room and they were paid while the nurses weren’t paid,” they claimed.

The alleged discrimination even impacts their appearance, they claim.

“Nurses have to wear their hair a certain way, to prevent the spread of infection to the clients and themselves, but another category of staff who also does direct client/patient care is allowed to wear their hair how they want.

“Nurses can’t wear extensions or nail polish but another category of staff who does client/patient care is allowed to wear them and no one has an issue with it,” they wrote.

Uniform is another subject highlighted by the nurses, who asserted that professional nursing shoes cost $400 a pair which some staff can’t afford.

“Nurses are the least paid professionals in SLBMC and have the most duties on their job description. There is no pension plan for nurses in Sir Lester Bird Medical Centre. If you leave tomorrow, the only thing that is due to you is your vacation days and the salary you earned for your ending period.

“A nurse can resign with two weeks’ notice or quit on site,” the letter stated.

A large number of nurses are scheduled to leave the country within months and the management continues to do nothing about it, the nurses went on to claim in their very detailed letter.

“Some nurses have left already. Is the Ministry of Health aware of this? Nurses continue to leave and those who remain can’t get a proper salary.

“We continue to work tirelessly with minimal staff. We need help. We are tired and burned out.

“We don’t even show up for work sometimes because no one cares and we are slowly adopting a ‘don’t care’ culture as well,” they claimed.

Inadequate equipment and supplies were also mentioned and these medics say some patients have been in the hospital for over a month waiting for surgery amid a shortage of items to perform certain minor and even major operations.

Members of the public have often complained about a lack of adequate customer training for nurses, and that was also mentioned.

“We don’t remember how to smile and be courteous through our pain. We are mentally unstable. Our work environment is very stressful and even toxic sometimes. We also have chronic medical problems. How much longer can we endure this pain? We have mental issues.

“It’s difficult to think critically when you don’t have a comfortable place to live,” they wrote.

Where training is concerned, the nurses said they are engaged in online classes but are not paid for specialty or additional areas of study.

“If we take study leave away from work, some of our allowances is not paid so we can’t afford to go and study and still take care of our financial obligations to our children.

“Antigua nurses are too poor. We live from paycheck to paycheck. Nurses are poorly treated. We are told that if we are sick more than twice during a two-week pay period, we will be given a warning letter but if we are sick, we are sick,” the nurses said.

The laundry list of concerns also includes taking time off from work for bereavement. The nurses lamented that they are only entitled to three days off for close family.

“We see clients dying around us daily and we just wrap up, send them to the morgue and continue to do our duties and return to work the next day and the day after that. No one says anything.

“We also lose our family members and we are given three days for very close relatives – nothing for aunts, uncles, nieces or nephews.

“We are broken and we continue to be broken. How many pieces can we be broken into before something is done?” the letter asked.

The only way these nurses say they can continue to function in their role professionally is for strong leaders to stand in their corner.

“We need strong leaders to stand up for us. Nursing is losing its autonomy. If we speak out, we are placed in a corner and a bridle is placed on our tongue. Nurse leaders are not even given a seat at the table.

“We are being thrown in the dustbin of history while those who can and should stand up remain seated,” the nurses said.

They ended their letter by claiming work was having a devastating effect on family life.

“I watch my colleagues lose their husbands because of staffing. We work long, tiring shifts and when you are home, we are of no use to anyone – neither our husbands, partners, or our children.

“We should not, and I repeat nurses should not, be struggling to make a living. Nurses have to take two or three jobs to live a decent life.

“We have to stay extra hours at work or get a second and third job to feed our children,” they added.

Antigua and Barbuda is not the only country in the region at risk of losing nurses. Almost 1,800 nurses have left Jamaica over the last four years in search of higher income overseas, according to the Jamaica Observer. Problems have been exacerbated by an ongoing recruitment drive in the UK for nurses to help fill a shortage there.

Observer reached out to the Sir Lester Bird Medical Centre for comment. A spokeswoman confirmed she had seen the letter and that an official response would be forthcoming. A Ministry of Health spokeswoman declined to comment.

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    • @ Just Saying

      When UPP was in power there were so many nasty stories printed by the then opposition ABLP based on information and press releases from the Marketing Manager Salma Crump. These days not a drum is heard from her as though everything is perfect in paradise.
      I hope the UPP has learnt its lessons from people like Ms Crump, Mr Merchant etc. She is one to be held responsible for their demise.
      But now the shoe is on the other foot, the minions like ‘Just Saying’ cannot take the heat, AS THE TRUTH OFFENDS.
      GET RID A DEM!

  1. For God’s sake, get the Medical Director to resign. These twelve people are beating around the bush. The problem is with the Medical director and with who hired him (and his disciples)
    Petty stuff like who wear nail polish, really? Is it a fashion show? Short clean nails should help to prevent the transfer of infection from patients to patients. Do y’all want to spread diseases? If the cry is that some doctors wear extensions as well as some nurse managers, then deal with that internally, give them citations . When people sit and quibble over crap, people die
    Get your act together slbmsj!!!

  2. Nurses deserve better. They have been through a lot. If we don’t treat our nurses well, many will migrate and then what will become of this country? This government mash up everything. The workers at Clarevue have similar complaints and the government has turned its back on them too. Confusion all over this country.

  3. Sounds like many government places… ABS comes to mind.
    However, the part about weave and nails, it’s almost written begrudgingly… like the writers want to wear extensions and nail polish too but what is the standard? What is recommended for a hospital? Management needs to implement best practice across the board for the safety of all. They also need to create a work environment that’ll bring out the best in employees which may be difficult because working in healthcare is hard but I trust they can do better.

  4. Ok anyone who can make this about red, blue or whatever other color they want is sick in the head.

    These are people! Our aunts, uncles, mothers, fathers, FRIENDS! Come on man… your neighbor’s keepers.

    We all know how hard they work because WE go to the hospital and complain about how bad it is there! Yes I can’t address pay and preferential treatment BUT if you go there as a patient BY GOD you can be nice to them. Even after you leave, pop back up there sometime and carry some flowers to say thank you.

    Yes there are some bad apples as with EVERY JOB, but some of them are top notch! Sweetest people lemme tell you.

    So until the hospital management and the ministry come around, come on residents, let it start with us. Let’s start loving our nurses. Treat them how you’d like to be treated. Make them smile and help them!

  5. The ministry of health and the hospital are toxic places to work. Put people who have hearts incharge. We top positions are held by the liad & wicked

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