About 20 nurses at the Princess Margaret Hospital today staged a peaceful protest in the vicinity of the Acute Psychiatric Unit (APU).
According to the nurses, they are fed up with the treatment from their boss at the APU, Dr. Griffin Benjamin.
A brief statement handed to reporters from head of the Dominica Nurses Association Rosie Felix at the scene claimed that nurses are being “psychologically and emotionally abused”. They also claimed that they, along with other doctors and workers are being bullied
Meanwhile when questioned by reporters at the APU, head of the unit Dr. Benjamin told reporters that he was unaware of the nurses’ concerns since neither he nor his staff had any communication with them on the matter.
“To be honest I am not too sure. I arrived at work and I saw about five to eight nurses standing there with placards. I can’t say I read them well but there was nothing personal about me on any of the placards. I have not received any form of communication from anyone; nobody on my team have written or explained to me that there is a problem. I do not know what exactly the problem is,” he stressed.
When reporters briefed him on what the nurses said were their concerns Benjamin said; “I looked through the demonstrators, I only saw one nurse from the unit and I can’t remember she ever accusing anybody on the unit of abusing her.”
Benjamin noted that he has a very good relationship with his staff and that they operate as a team. “The relationship with the nurses have been excellent. Of course I have my concerns,” he added.
“I have no experience on this ward of ever attacking a nurse. The only thing I would do is I would write to the supervisors to explain. I believe if there is anything connected to this activity today it would have to be that in December in while reviewing the staff composition in the unit, I wrote three letters about staff members who I felt in 2010 did not perform adequately,” he pointed out.
He continued, “I am not their immediate supervisor, I am not the one who do their annual appraisal but when I admit a patient there constitutionally, the court and the government expect me to be responsible for their health. So I take on my own – maybe the other doctors do not do it – and I write to my administrative boss, to my permanent secretary, and I copy to all of the supervisors that ‘X’ nurse or ‘Y’ nurse is not performing adequately and is not helping the process to go forward.”
Benjamin further assured that he has not insulted, confronted or made any disparaging remarks about any staff member in the unit “so if that’s the evidence you have let the person tell you what I said”.
Benjamin said that he has seen a lack of work ethics within the unit as it relates to nurses.
“There are times when there are clashes in opinions and sometimes when I am very unhappy with the fact that their work ethics is unsatisfactory. This is probably the only section in the nursing area where staff believe that there is no work to be done-(like) all you have to do is lock the patient up and go home. And they would give medications to the patient but then at times when you look for staff members they are out of the ward, gone,” he said.
“So the work ethics sometimes I challenge them on because that it is not acceptable and Dominicans are accustomed to quality health care. So I do write to the matron, I do write to the principal nursing officer and I write to my permanent secretary to explain to her when I’m unhappy. If that is bullying well I am sorry. I’m trained to manage, I’ll manage in this way,” he stated.
Benjamin pinpointed a particular senior nurse, whom he said was the only nurse involved in the protest today, who started working at the unit three months ago. He claimed that that particular employee was not performing her duties adequately so he recommended her removal from the unit.
“I wrote to say that the nurse is not spending time with my patients. That nurse locks herself up in her office and leaves the patient locked up in the room, and I want them to interact with the patient, so I wrote and asked that the nurse’s three-month assignment with us be ended. I think that she was not prepared for the job,” he stated.
Benjamin said that the nurse in question, the permanent secretary in the ministry, other superiors and himself met last week on the matter and she was given a three-month probation.
“The nurse is busy studying or the nurse is busy taking care of her family life with no training in mental health and she is supervising the rest of the staff. I am not the employer but I would write to my supervisors and say that she is not fit for the job,” Benjamin claims.
Lack of mental health training for nurses
Benjamin mentioned a problem which he said he has made consistent complaints about to his superiors – the lack of training for mental health nurses.
“My only and consistent concern and reports and complaints to the Ministry of Health about the nursing team is the absence of trained mental health nurses assigned to work on the psychiatric unit. The absence of any manager in the nursing field sent to work with us with any kind of training in mental health they are not adequately prepared,” he said.
“They have not done any of the formal training, and so sometimes they have difficulty understanding the process that is being followed at the psychiatric unit,” he added.
Amidst all this Benjamin assured the operations of the unit was not hindered by the protest today. He said that there is approximately 19 staff employed at the unit.
The nurses staged their silent protest on a portion of the lawn located at the side of the APU building, allowing the free flow of traffic in and out of the grounds. At least two police officers, regular security personnel and a photographer were also present on the scene.