...Historical NA hospital to maintain key role By Daniel Da Costa
Stabroek News
November 19, 2003

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New Amsterdam's most prominent historical edifice and a national heritage centre will close an era in its 119-year long existence come March 2005 when it will be replaced by a new state-of-the-art public hospital being built on the north-western edge of Guyana's oldest township.

The present hospital which occupies an entire block along the western half of Charles Place was first established as the Public Hospital, Berbice where the National Psychiatric Hospital now stands at Fort Canje. However, as the population grew the demand for improved health care services increased and influenced a decision to construct a larger institution at the present site.

In 1968 the Lions Club of New Amsterdam erected an eye clinic, the eye operating theatre in 1971 and a modern maternity and child health clinic in 1988. The department of forensic pathology was opened in November 1993 on the ground floor of the south-western section of the building while the accident and emergency department was opened in 1997.

The hospital has 272 bed spaces and among the services it offers are: medical, surgical, orthopaedic, gynaecological, ophthalmic and laboratory. The institution also has a nursing school attached to it a short distance away on Angoy's Avenue and provides clinical practice for students.

However, over the years the Ministry of Health and the regional administration have struggled to maintain the elaborate building, its infrastructure, service and equipment. They have also been experiencing difficulties in retaining and attracting qualified medical staff.

The criticisms have come from almost every quarter in East and West Berbice as the experiences of patients and staff were made public and a number of patients lost their lives under dubious circumstances. Maintaining such a large building with limited annual allocations has however been no easy task for regional administrators.

One senior official told this newspaper recently that "maintenance of the age-old building has become a costly problem." The construction of a new hospital therefore could not have been more timely. However the problem of staffing is expected to continue way beyond the opening of the new institution in 2005. "We are still thinking about these possibilities," he said.

Chief Executive Officer of the regional health authority established to manage the sector in the region, Dr. Vishwa Mahadeo at a recent press conference reassured that "the present hospital will not be shutdown since it was presently undergoing repairs. Some of the clinics and the nursing school will be housed there while other uses are still being explored." He acknowledged there is a shortage of doctors and consultants, pointing out that it was a country-wide problem. "However, efforts will continue to recruit Cuban consultants as is now the case."

Dr. Mahadeo also referred to the ongoing staff turnover among nurses pointing out that "nurses are being recruited by organisations in England, the United States and the Caribbean and there is very little we can do about it. What we can do is to train more nurses and hope those on contract would honour their obligations and to recruit more doctors. In the meantime we would have to make the best use of what we have."

The inadequacy of GMOs and specialists at the institution has been a long-standing concern. Relatives of deceased patients have in the past blamed their demise on either the unavailability of doctors or their tardiness in responding to emergency calls.