Growing need for healthcare workers as Caribbean battles renewed COVID-19 surges

COCKBURN TOWN, TURKS AND CAICOS — Many Caribbean nations have scrambled to shore up healthcare worker complements in the face of vicious third waves of COVID-19 that are quickly pushing hospitals over capacity.

But those efforts might prove inadequate if an “expected worsening of the pandemic” comes to pass, according to Chief of Medical Services at Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) Hospital Dr. Dawn Perry-Ewing, who highlighted an increasing need for all manner of healthcare workers.

TCI, like several of its regional counterparts, has benefitted from a supplemental cohort of Cuban healthcare workers, whose contracts have since been extended to February 2022.

But Perry-Ewing said, “Even though we have made our best efforts…our best efforts are still perhaps not going to be enough if we do experience a third wave and if this third wave is anything characteristic of what we’ve been seeing in other jurisdictions.”

She added, “It is imperative for the public to realize that even though we do have resources at hand, even though we do have the benefit of staff who are now more comfortable in the management of COVID-positive patients — more experienced, more knowledgeable — that we do have a very small human resource cohort and it is very easy for us to become burnt out.

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    “Replacing staff has proven to be quite challenging in a pandemic because globally there’s a shortage of health professionals — doctors, nurses and all other members of the healthcare fraternity.”

    Neighboring countries grappling to manage third waves have experienced the kind of challenges Perry-Ewing referred to. In Jamaica, healthcare workers have been advised all leave may be canceled “to ensure adequate staff coverage”; while in The Bahamas, even retired healthcare workers have been called “to come forward and assist in our time of need”.

    The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) has assisted with boosting healthcare capacity where possible, but PAHO Director Dr. Carissa Etienne still noted that “an additional 20,000 doctors and more than 30,000 nurses are expected to be needed to manage the ICU needs of half of the countries in Latin America and the Caribbean”.

    “Whether it was shortages of PPE, ICU beds, oxygen or health workers, countries are being forced to act quickly to make up for years of underinvestment, and while countries have dramatically expanded their healthcare capacity in just a few months’ time, our health workers are continuing to feel the strain of this pandemic,” Etienne said.

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