Bed Shortage Hits Liberia’s #1 Hospital

By: Samuel G. Dweh |Development Journalist|Contacts: +231-886-618-906/776-583-266,           |

Plastic chairs become “beds”; critical-condition persons rejected

Different features of Liberia’s John F. Kennedy Memorial Center

There were chaotic scenes at the John F. Kennedy Memorial Medical Center, Liberia’s top Government Hospital, on 3rd and 4th of September, 2020.

On September 3, a male relative of a female patient confronted a female medical attendant assigned to his mother being treated in a white plastic chair in a room marked “ER”  at the ‘emergency entrance’ on the ground floor of the Hospital. It was in the evening’s time.

“Doctor, you and your colleagues have been changing pressure-check shifts on my mother in this rubber chair over two hours now, since we brought her here around six o’clock, in the evening, today,” the patient’s relative complained to the attendant on another round of pressure check using a medical thermometer.

“No vacant bed now, for your mother to sit or lie on while I treat her,” the Medic responded in a tone revealing anger, and added: “In the past, some patients spent two or three days in chairs, because of bed shortage as it is now. When one person is discharged tonight, somebody from here will take over the bed. But your mother met many other sick people and each of them will be attended to on the bed issue before her.”

Two other patients were with the patient being treated. One was on the only bed in the room, an oxygen tube connected to her nose and a metal cylinder stationed in a corner, between the patient being treated and the third patient with one of her hand connected to a thin tube connected to the same cylinder. She was sitting in another plastic chair. She was later identified as Lucy T-Girl Kamanda. The other patient was introduced as Elizabeth Broh.

All persons in the ER were Pressure patients.

Outside of the Emergency Room, on the porch, three other “registered” patients sat in plastic chairs, each waiting for a “vacant bed”

As the Hospital’s ‘working time’ pushed into midnight, more sick people were brought in cars, ‘Kekes’ (tricylcles) and motorbikes. Many were in critical conditions. The chin of one, brought in Keke, had cracked, revealing a gash.

“It happened near the Mount Coffey Hydro community in Brewerville. One speeding car hit him when he was crossing with his motorbike through the express road. The driver of the car didn’t stop,” one of the three young men who brought the patient narrated to question from one of those on the porch.  “Three clinics refused him. People working in the Redemption Hospital refused him. So, we brought him here. We don’t know his family.” Redemption Hospital is another Government’s Health Center.

“I filled my Keke’s gas tank with five hundred Liberty  gas just to bring him here. We spent over three hours on the road,” the operator of the Tricycle said. “Liberty” is local parlance for Liberia’s Currency—Dollar.

The three “Good Samaritans” were complaining about the wounded man’s blood on their clothes and most parts of the passengers’ seat.

Many Government vehicles—not of JFK Hospital—were among cars that thronged into the premises during this “non-visiting hour”

News about the presence of the Minister of Public Works, Mobutu Nyenpan, in the Hospital, and in “critical condition”, soon spread around the Hospital’s surrounding. Many persons gave different versions of his sickness—some attributing it to “spiritual attack”

Among those who came during the late hour was the National Chairman of the ruling political party, Coalition of Democratic Change (CDC), Mulbah Morlu.  He didn’t have COVID-19 mask on.

“Please give me one nose mask, I forgot my nose mask at home,” Mr. Morlu said to one of the nurses in the patients’ information registration booth.

The woman found a new, blue nose mask for the CDC’s bigwig.

The “no vacant bed” pandemonium continued the next day, Friday, September 5. All private cars—each with a “critically sick person”— were blocked at the Security booth of the Emergency Unit.

Another sick person, identified as Moses Brown, had been joined to the two female patients in the Emergency Room. A male doctor, in white medical garment, assigned to him, advised him against adding salt to his food cooked with glutamate, and that he should come back for blood-level check every week.

The lady on the bed last night had been transferred “permanent bed”, and patient Elizabeth Broh was given the “temporary bed” due to her seniority of age between those waiting in plastic chairs.

Complaints, quarrels or confrontation by some of the sick people’s relatives outside were filtering into the Emergency Wall on the ground floor. Some of the quarrels were directed against the Security officers at the Emergency Unit’s Security booth for refusing to raise the blocking bar—an instruction from the authority of the Hospital.

“Our sister is in a life-threatening situation, but the JFK Hospital’s Security officers are preventing our car from passing the gate, saying they are obeying order from above,” a lady, later identified as Rose Teah, said to an invisible person during phone discussion at ten o’ clock. She was leaning against a blue Van with license plate number A56327 parked one yard from the Security gate. A woman lied on the floor of the car, leaned against one of those who brought her, and provided with fresh air with a cloth in the hand of another person.

After a long fruitless wait to be ushered into the Emergency Unit’s premises, escorts of the sick person drove away in the car that brought into the JFK Medical Center.

At 12:00pm, another vehicle, white Toyota Land Cruiser, ‘rushed’ into the parking space of the Emergency Unit and stopped in front of the entrance. It was marked with the following information: “Republic of Liberia    Ministry of Health, R.L.     GSA-MOH-02-384”

“The Hospital people are saying, no vacant bed,” one of those near the Jeep relayed the information to those in the car.

A sorrowful wail (loud cry) burst out of the car with the opening of the back door by one of the escorts. “Ay! Save my life-o! Take me into the hospital! Call the doctor for me!” the woman cried. She continued repeating some of the words.

The person crying was a huge body-size woman, in a multi-colors dress, sitting on the floor of the car, legs far apart, leaned backward against one of those who brought her.

A female escort came out of the Jeep. She was wearing an orange T-Shirt (under a khaki vest) marked “Emergency Medical Service (EMS)” She raced toward the entrance, but met a wall of JFK Hospital’s Nurses, Doctors, and Hospital Assistants at the entrance.

“No vacant bed in here now,” a member of the human-barricade said to the woman representing the patient in a life-threatening condition.

The woman placed her mobile phone to hear ear and spoke to somebody, relaying the information she had received. Minutes later, she said to a male Doctor in the human wall in front of her, “Please speak with the Chief Medical Officer at where we’ve come from.”

The JFK Hospital’s Doctor grabbed the phone. “There’s no vacant seat at the JFK Medical Center now! All beds in the Hospital are occupied with patients,” he repeated the Hospital’s official information to the person on the other side of the telephone line.

Only Government’s vehicles—Ambulances or those marked “Ministry of Health”—were allowed to pass through the Security gate (metal stick crossed through the entry point) But no patient in any of them was brought out.

There were also issues over the Hospital’s food for the patients on September 5 (Friday) The food arrived at 12pm. Each patient’s was in brown earthenware container. The food was a little rice, a little of what looked like beans or Split Pea (the porridge), and a piece of dry fish in each person’s food bowl.

The “Fish” in one patient’s bowl was as thin and flat as a memory chip in an electronic device.

“This is a beggar’s food. The hospital’s leader continues stopping better food from my family’s house to my sick relative in here,” a visitor complained to her relative over the Hospital’s lunch.

The John F. Kennedy Memorial Medical Center’s main reason for preventing “outside food” is to safeguard the life of each of its patient against “poisoning” According to an inside sources in the Hospital, who spoke to this writer on condition of anonymity, food poisoning had happened in the JFK Medical Center in the past by some of the “visitors” who introduced themselves as “relatives” or “friends” to the victims of food poisoning.

On Sunday, September 6, flies ‘intruded’ into the ground-floor Emergency Wall, adjacent the patients’ information registration point at the entrance of the Emergency Unit. Four patients—two women and two men—were in this Wall. None had physical strength to drive off the flies hovering around them or perching on each person’s lips and other parts of the body. Three of the patients (two men and one woman) had Oxygen tube connected to their mouths. The fourth patient (an elderly woman) was ‘still’ on her bed.

“Please buy water for me to drink, one of the Nurses said to me there’s no water in the hospital,” the elderly woman said to a relative here on visit.

Three female Medics were with the four patients. Two were in blue-white checker medical garment; one in maroon medical suit; the third was in predominantly white medical garment.

From my investigation at the Medical Center, majority of the cases in the “Emergency Unit” were of Pressure or Hypertension. This could be linked to the high “national frustration level” caused by mass unemployment and heightened national poverty level caused by the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic’s impacts.

A source in the Hospital told me that the bed scarcity at the JFK Hospital started at the COVID-19 pandemic’s period (March, 2020)

“Most people are getting sick during the COVID-19 period than prior to the advent of the virus in Liberia. And most of these sick people are coming to JKF Hospital, because It is a Government’s Hospital, and each person expects treatment here to be cheap compared to other  popular Health Centers,” the source told me in the premises of the Hospital.

But some persons with relatives and friends at this Government’s Health center argued that medical treatment here isn’t “cheap” as many of their colleagues, with relatives or friends on treatment here, feel.

“We brought out aunt, with Pressure, here on Thursday, September 3, and today the Hospital’s bill given to us says we should pay seventy-six thousand, eight hundred and ninety-five Liberian Dollars. That’s an equivalent of almost four hundred and thirty United States Dollars. The Hospital’s Finance Office defended the amount on various kinds of drugs and treatments they administered to our aunt, but she said she could remember only eight bags of Drips they gave here” a lady narrated to her friends and other patients’ visitors outside of the building.

The John F. Kennedy Memorial Medical Center, especially in post-civil war Liberia, has always been entangled in a string of issues. The most heralded, recurrently being leaked to the Media, are: Shortage/theft of drugs; medical attendants’ demand for bribes from patients or their visiting relatives for “preferential treatment” (including offering a bed during announcement of “bed scarcity”) or attendants’ negligence on duty (which has caused fall of some patients from their beds); and presence of many medically unqualified persons(quacks) in sensitive positions—like Surgical Unit (which has caused deaths of many patients), especially on political connection.

These issues are persisting at a time there is huge financial and technical support from “Liberia’s International Development Partners”, especially the United States of America, the People’s Republic of China, Great Britain, and Sweden.

The George Manneh Weah-led Government has “inherited” most of these “attitudinal issues” from the Government of his immediate predecessor—Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

During Mrs. Ellen Sirleaf’s Presidency, some Liberians creatively coined meanings to the Government’s #1 Hospital’s initials (JFK)—“Just For Killing” (in place of “John Fitzgerald Kennedy”—America’s first President in whose memory the this Liberian Government Hospital was named) This coinage came as the people’s reaction to report of “death per week”—traced to “medical performance” of “quacks” who had been assigned to carry out child delivery and surgery, and other sensitive medical operations—each of which requires high-professional (medical) knowledge.

About Cholo Brooks 14609 Articles
Joel Cholo Brooks is a Liberian journalist who previously worked for several international news outlets including the BBC African Service. He is the CEO of the Global News Network which publishes two local weeklies, The Star and The GNN-Liberia Newspapers. He is a member of the Press Union Of Liberia (PUL) since 1986, and several other international organizations of journalists, and is currently contributing to the South Africa Broadcasting Corporation as Liberia Correspondent.

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