Demanding Answers From JFK Memorial Medical Center
Just for Killing Label a Stain on Kennedy’s Legacy, Need for Urgent Accountability, transparency and better health care at Liberia’s Premiere Medical facility
LIBERIA IN THE PAST few days have been awash in one media report after another coming down with damning indictments against the premier medical facility in the country, the John F. Kennedy Medical Center.
APTLY DUBBED JUST FOR KILLING, by many who have seen their friends, loved ones and family members die over very simple ailments, the hospital has seen public confidence in its administration erode amid mounting and damaging revelations from a former staffer, Mr. Daylue Goah, former Head of Public Relations of the acclaimed hospital.
The JFK has in recent time come under strong criticism after Mr. Goah released sensitive information on activities at the hospital. Amongst the information, Goah disclosed patients are abandoned and left to die, mass undignified burial of the dead when the bodies are not collected by family members. Goah has also been releasing checks and other financial documents indicating how the hospital has been sending thousands of dollars to individuals.
THE HOSPITAL was built at the request of Liberian President William V.S. Tubman, whose 1961 visit with U.S. President John F. Kennedy laid the groundwork for USAID funding for a national medical center in Liberia. The project was funded with a $6.8 million loan and $9.2 million in grants from USAID and a $1 million contribution from the Liberian Government. Construction began in 1965 and the facility opened on July 27, 1971.
DURING THE BRUTAL civil war, the facility sustained heavy damage over the 23-year period of civil unrest that began with the 1980 coup led by Samuel Doe and lasted until 2003. The main hospital, which at five stories is one of the tallest structures in the vicinity, was at one point occupied by rebel forces and used as a machine gun outpost overlooking Tubman Boulevard, a major road linking the Sinkor neighborhood with downtown Monrovia. The hospital was also used at one time by the Red Cross and Medecins Sans Frontieres as a field hospital for the war wounded.
WHEN PRESIDENT ELLEN JOHNSON-SIRLEAF came to office in 2005, serious priority was expressed about healthcare delivery as the government went knocking on the doors of the international community to come to the aid of the ailing medical center.
ORGANIZATIONS LIKE Hospitals of Hope has been committed to helping bring change in Liberia, through sending essential equipment, training hospital staff, and providing patient care.
THE US-BASED MOUNT SINAI GLOBAL HEALTH TRAINING CENTER has also been instrumental and active in post-conflict health sector development and supporting clinical operations and medical education at the facility.
TOGETHER WITH its in-country partner, Health Education and Relief Through Teaching (HEARTT) and other partner institutions, the organization has been working to redevelop the Emergency Medical, Pediatrics, Internal Medicine, Psychiatry and other Specialty Services within the country. Partners include Yale, Brown, University of Chicago, University of Maryland, University of Wisconsin, University of Massachusetts, Stanford, and McGill. Residents have participated in supporting active clinical operations, leading multidisciplinary health care teams on clinical rounds, teaching at both the medical school and graduate medical education levels, developing nursing education, and establishing practice care guidelines.
BUT WITH SO MUCH goodwill pouring in, why is healthcare delivery so poor?
FRONTPAGEAFRICA THIS WEEK obtained copy of an Investigative report by Liberia Medical and Dental Council concerning the death of Nakita Forh, daughter of Montserrado County lawmaker, Edward Forh which lay the blame on the death of the college beauty queen squarely on the medical facility. “The hospital, the Chief Medical officer, Dr. Billy Johnson, Dr. David Okiror and Nursing Staff on duty are liable and should face penalty for the death of this patient. The penalties should include fines, official warning from their respective boards and suspension of licenses”, the report noted.
HE LAWMAKER has already instituted a lawsuit against the hospital for the death of his daughter and the case is ongoing at the Civil law Court at the Temple of Justice. In the report released on February 23, 2015 following the death of Nakita, the LMDC in its findings established those on duty failed to attend to the patient which led to her death. In its recommendation, the investigative team comprising Dr. Nyanquoi K. Kargba, Registrar General/LMDC, member and Dr. Moses G. Y. Pewu, Resource Director/LMDC, Chairman found that the in all the explanations made by the doctors and nurses there is no mention of temperature recording on the patient which is very important in triage.
ADDITIONALLY, the hospital has also come under fire over its handling of the death of Little Shaki Kamara, a West Point kid who was shot by security forces in the West Point community.
RECENT IMAGES AND VIDEOS leaked to the media which is making the rounds on social media once again showed how ill-prepared and reckless doctors and nurses were during the handling of Little Shaki when he was taken to the hospital.
GOAH’S REVELATIONS about ineptitude and careless treatment of patients at the facility has prompted calls for an investigation into the hospital operations.
THE ISSUE HAS BECOME POLITICAL with football legend and head of the opposition Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) also taking swings at the poor condition and allegations of corruption at the hospital.
SENATOR WEAH who is currently in Abuja, Federal Republic of Nigeria attending the Extra -Ordinary Session of the ECOWAS Parliament Montserrado County has expressed his concern over the public outcry and recent media reports of the administrative problems and challenges plaguing the John F. Kennedy Medical Center in Monrovia.
EVEN MORE TROUBLING for the facility are reports of payments of thousands of dollars to officials in government for services allegedly rendered to the facility.
SENATOR WEAH says he has communicated with the leadership of the Congress For Democratic Change to allow its Grievance and Ethics Committee to examine and seek clarification from Senator Dr. Peter Coleman, who is a member of the CDC legislative Caucus, on his monthly receipt of professional service fees from the JFK Medical Center. “Upon his return to the country, senator Weah will receive the report of the CDC Grievance and Ethics committee and consider its recommendations”, the Montserrado County Senator indicated.
PAYMENTS TO SENATOR PETER COLEMAN (CDC, Maryland) and Ms. Puchu Bernard, head of the Civil Service Agency has also raised issues of conflict of interest and waste of thousands of dollars when patients are being charged massive amounts of money for healthcare delivery.
ALL THIS amid a government-owned assessment report of the health system in the country reporting that there is a critical health workforce shortage compounded with high attrition and demotivation. “There is no appraisal system to track staff performance exacerbated by a low and unstandardized salary structure Staff is
disenchanted over low salaries and wrongful dismissal. Over 4,000 health workers are contractors and are job insecure with many lacking housing accommodation, particularly professional staff in rural communities,” note the 2015 Assessment report by former Minister Walter Gwenigale.
TODAY, Twenty nine (29%)of Liberians (1.1million people) lack access to a health facility within 5km or a one-hour walk 65% of households walked to a health facility; 26% of health facilities do not have a sound structure; 45% do not have a primary power source or electricity, 13% do not have access to safe water; and 43% do not have a functional incinerator or waste management system, the report notes.
IN THE FORMER MINISTER’S own words, there is no Laboratory Standard no maintenance plan and budget and many health facilities lack periodic maintenance. “Most health facilities need extension to accommodate emergency triage, isolation units and the separate ion of short stay males from females and appropriate latrines facilities. Confidentiality and privacy are not observed in most health facilities, infection prevention and control systems are weak, and neither financial nor cultural barriers were the main impediments to accessing health care.”
LIBERIA HAS COME a long way and it will take a lot of innovation and intervention to reform a health system in decline especially in the wake of recent scourge of the deadly Ebola virus outbreak.
THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY can only do so much. We as a country and administrators must reinvent the wheels and find ways we can improve the health care delivery of those languishing at the bottom of the economic ladder who are not as fortunate as those at the helm of power who have the luxury of jumping on a plane for medical check-up and treatment.
WE CAN AND MUST start at the JFK where government must take the important step of taking stock of the administration, auditing and ensuring a more transparent and accountable operation in the wake of these mounting revelations of neglect, corruption and a serious lack of accountability and transparency. Former US President was right when he said: “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”
PRESIDENT SIRLEAF has made the appointments and entrusted officials to do their job, the international community has and continues to do its part to ensure that healthcare delivery is at least workable. They came to our aid during Ebola and will not stand by and see us suffer but we too, that includes those in administration must ensure that the system works, not just for a few but for all.