An appropriate and significant alarm was raised by employees of the stores department of the San Fernando General Hospital (SFGH) last week about an unacceptable rat infestation in the institution’s stores department. The 40 workers who manage or use bulk stocks of stationery, hardware, medical and engineering supplies in the hospital and in regional clinics have taken to wearing the protective gowns, gloves and shoes worn by staff working in the operating theatres for protection.
What’s worrying the workers is not the rats, but their waste, the droppings and urine that are vectors for leptospirosis, a deadly bacterial infection.
In November 2017, an outbreak of leptospirosis in south and east Trinidad followed widespread flooding. Thirteen cases were reported with at least two deaths. The deadly efficiency of the rat-borne disease was probably facilitated concentration of rats fleeing the water to find new homes in unexpected places.
Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh took note of the SFGH issue in Parliament on Friday afternoon, assuring the public that the protocols that ensure the cleanliness of product moving from stores pallets into the hospital system would be improved to protect patients and staff from any of the diseases that rats can spread, which include meningitis, haemorrhagic fever and salmonella.
It’s hardly the only problem to face the hospital. In January 2018, a drain pipe collapsed in the General Surgical Ward, bringing down the ceiling above the nurses’ station. A year later, Dr Anand Chattorgoon, former medical director of the SFGH, criticised overcrowding at the Accident and Emergency Department after his 92-year-old aunt spent two days there on a gurney. The doctor could not persuade anyone to make a bed available and described the experience as a “nightmare.”
Given the seriousness of the rat infestation problem, a decisive response from the Ministry of Health is required. People do not come to the nation’s hospitals to become sick, and anything that might constitute a threat to already ailing patients demands a significant response. Acting CEO of the SFGH Dr Albert Persaud seemed optimistic to declare that “within a day or two, we would have eradicated them completely.”
A rat infestation doesn’t happen by accident. Rats appear in groups when conditions favour breeding or feeding and there has been no clarity from either the SFGH or the Health Ministry about what caused this dramatic increase in the rodent population at the stores department. Without knowing that, there is no good reason to assume that rats won’t show up anywhere else on the compound and that’s troubling.
The SFGH must ensure that the eradication team hired to deal with this problem also uncovers what caused it in the first place.