BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Mar. 19, 2020– The intransigence and wrongheadedness of the top brass of the KHMH and the Ministry of Health, in the face of urgent pleas from its Health Workers Union, makes me worry greatly about the future, and has shaken up to a fresh and painful state, some sad memories. A car break-in thief on Princess Margaret Drive stole my flash drives where I had stored records of my experiences over fifteen years in the management system of Nova Companies of Belize, the well-known, now defunct shrimp farm on the outskirts of Ladyville. I have forgotten more than many will ever know about the business of shrimp farming, but this crisis at Karl Heusner, and the “ignorance” of those making big decisions, brought me back to the sad and regrettable loss of life on the job one morning at Nova.
I had recently been relieved from the post of general manager, and the new person in charge had approved the appointment to supervisor of the new expansion D-Farm, a person who was NOT the one in line, and acknowledged by other supervisors and assistant-supervisors as well as general workers, as not the best qualified person to take up the appointment. Not only that, the person chosen had been pushed past many others in the line of succession by training and experience. A simple tractor driver and feed delivery man was suddenly in charge of operations on D-Farm.
Twenty-year old Carlos Garcia was, to the best of my knowledge, only a few weeks on the job as a screen man; but he was sensible enough to see danger in the task being assigned to him without the proper safeguards at the pond discharge gate structure. And it ended up costing him his life. Any feeder, screen-man, or certainly any supervisor with some experience on the farm, would know the necessary board safeguards required when entering an outlet structure with a pond full of water and only the clogged screens holding back a wall of water. According to reports that filtered to me later, Carlos was reluctant to go down in the structure; but his supervisor was adamant. And while Carlos was at the bottom, the clogged screen gave way, and a monstrous wall of water submerged and crushed him against the outlet pipe with too much force for him to even pull himself free.
The unqualified supervisor responsible for the incident was subsequently relieved of his post and continued working at his previously assigned position as deliveryman. There was no criminal prosecution involved. Just a gross and costly error; and hopefully a lesson well learnt: don’t put an unqualified person in charge of important decision making, when there are highly qualified and experienced persons to choose from.
I received bits and pieces of reports over time, in order to piece together how the whole thing could have happened. But I wasn’t inclined, the lesson already having been learnt, and the sad deed already done, to make a hue and cry to anyone; lest I be viewed as a bitter former-general manager looking to criticize my replacement. We all mourned the loss of an innocent youth, and attended the funeral of brother Carlos Garcia, R.I.P.
I bring up this sad memory now, over fifteen years later, because, on an immensely larger scale, our authorities in our Health Care services are making some big decisions in the face of strong criticism, and even desperate pleas to reconsider, from members of staff with on-the-ground experience. The similarities are too eerie to dismiss; the Opposition has often ridiculed the current Health Minister as being a trained electrician; his arrogance in the face of this crisis lends substance to their assessment of his suitability to the post of Minister of Health. Among the voices being ignored is no less than that of a former Director of the KHMH, Dr. Bernard Bulwer, who, from February 16 has posted his advice to those considering the very move now being implemented, using KHMH as a site for screening and dealing with Covid-19 cases.
On the proposal of locating an isolation room for Covid-19 cases inside the KHMH, Dr. Bulwer began a 10-point statement with the following bold question: WHO ADVISED BELIZE ON THIS? (as per the linked BBN article) on “isolation areas within health facilities,” and “the hospital [KHMH] area designated for isolation” for possible Covid-19 Coronavirus patients?
Below are listed a portion of Dr. Bulwer’s statement, including his closing comments:
6. The KHMH is Belize’s national referral hospital. WHEN THE KHMH GOES DOWN … for whatever reason, e.g. the operating rooms … the entire nation is affected. This is the national referral hospital! I served that institution as the Medical Director for 2 years (2009-2011), so presumably I know how things work … and don’t work.
7. I know what real isolation rooms and isolation wards look like, in the USA, across East Asia, and the UK. FYI: BELIZE HAS NO ISOLATION WARD OR FACILITY THAT REACHES THE INTERNATIONAL STANDARD.
8. Even countries with solid hospitals, with solid infectious disease expertise, are having a hard time coping. I am in almost daily contact with medical colleagues from Mainland China, Hong Kong, South Korea. HEALTH CARE WORKERS are themselves at very risk. Many are infected, despite precautions. Some have died, as exemplified by that sacrificial 32-year-old Chinese doctor. Li Wenliang, who first sounded the alarm.
9. They (in 8 above) are having a hard time controlling the spread of this very infectious and poorly understood virus, to which humanity as a whole has hitherto been exposed. This means that the masses are vulnerable with no prior immunity.
10. Which expertise has Belize sought? … Based on the quote in this article (assuming they got their facts right) “isolation areas within health facilities”, including the KHMH?
I’m writing this to John Public because maybe they’ll listen to you (and not to me).
Let your Belizean authorities know that if they ignorantly wish to cripple an already challenged health system (with NO REAL ISOLATION WARDS AND EXPERTISE FOR THIS KIND OF VIRUS), by inviting potential such patients … into any district hospital and the KHMH … is a formula for potential national disaster, and not just confined to healthcare.
FOR THE NATION’S SAKE! Tell your Belizean authorities to seek REAL EXPERTISE (not just WHO and PAHO, since these are politically driven organizations that often say what politicians want them to say, as is clear in this Covid-19 pandemic … which hasn’t be so labeled because of politics) but also from US-CDC or experts from Johns Hopkins, Duke, and Harvard (Belizeans in the Diaspora can arrange this).
Or maybe … Belize can just “fingers crossed”, “knock on wood”, and hope we never get a case, and proceed with the status quo … and “Que sera, sera”!
I felt no personal obligation to speak my mind on that incident at Nova; and I was not called to give evidence at any trial or official investigation on the matter. A precious life was lost; and a lesson learnt that would prevent any such repetition.
But now this situation is before us, and so I must offer my little two cents from past experience. For the ill-advised minister to “walk through” KHMH and still refuse to meet and talk with the representatives of workers whose lives will be on the line, is inexcusable and symptomatic of the kind of ignorant arrogance that would embolden one to play “roulette” with a people’s fate. What’s next, Belize?