Monday, February 19, 2018

Pink form, grey area; another tragic ending

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Mark Fraser

 Reports that a terminally ill Guyanese visitor was refused emergency treatment at Trinidad and Tobago’s foremost health care institution understandably drew response from the Georgetown authorities and from the Port of Spain-based consul general. The reports also embarrassed and dismayed T&T citizens in that the Guyanese visitor died on the way to a private hospital.

 In advance of the findings of investigations he requested of the chairman of the North Central Regional Health Authority, Health Minister Fuad Khan yesterday sought to correct some wholly discreditable impressions.

What had been reported to be a refusal to treat the patient in a manner called for by his condition was emphatically denied by Dr Khan. But the question of payment did arise when Mt Hope staff discovered the patient’s Guyanese nationality, and his companion was requested to fill  out a “pink form”, a financial obligation statement.

The “pink form” signalled a grey area in Mt Hope’s bureaucratic management of patient reception. Some non-national patients are obliged to pay for treatment, but others, if defined as “emergency”, escape that requirement.

Having been handed the “pink form”, however, the Guyanese visitors assumed that an obligation to pay applied, and naturally asked how much. What happened next began the tragic sequence leading to the heart patient’s departure as he headed for more hopeful reception elsewhere.

The Mt Hope staff were unable to supply treatment cost figures. For her part, the companion to the Guyanese patient formed the impression that the anxiously noted delay in treatment was related to their failure to pay. 

If, as reported by his companion, the man’s case was set aside by emergency desk staff, upon disclosure of his Guyanese nationality, such a response would count as an abomination. More than three years ago, then health minister Therese Baptiste-Cornelis affirmed that services at Mt Hope are free. “No one should be asked to pay for anything,” she emphasised. 

Dr Khan was yesterday less-than-emphatic about whether that policy still applied. In any event, the question of payment should never have arisen if the Guyanese case had unmistakably been deemed an emergency.

In the resulting mix-up, the Guyanese saw their case being assigned second-class status, requiring their patient, with consequently fatal effect, to wait, while others received attention. Meanwhile, the Mt Hope staff went through the motions of normal procedure for a patient with chest pains, imparting no sense of urgency, or emergency, such as the Guyanese expected.

In T&T, efforts continue, with uneven success, to raise to acceptable levels the general expectations of customer service at health care institutions and elsewhere. The Guyanese public can be assured that their T&T counterparts share the disappointment and regret given rise to by the tragic outcome of this visitor’s encounter with the Mt Hope facility’s front desk.