Ailing health-care retiree pleads for gratuity at SWRHA meeting

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Louisa Delores Placid makes an appeal for her gratuity at the SWRHA meeting, San Fernando City Hall on Thursday.
– Angelo Marcelle

A former health-care worker with over 36 years’ service, broke down as she used the platform of the South West Regional Health Authority (SWRHA) board meeting held at City Hall, San Fernando, on Thursday, to plead for her gratuity.

Louisa Delores Placid, one of 200 retirees who are yet to receive their benefits, years after they have retired, said she is alone and ailing and desperately needs her outstanding money to live.

Placid told the board, headed by CEO Dr Brian Armour, that she worked up until age 69, but four years later, after losing her husband and suffering a stroke, she is yet to receive a cent.

She spoke of her many attempts to get a settlement to no avail, saying over the years all she has been hearing is, “Placid, we checking, Placid, we checking and nothing more.

“I am in dire need of my money. I cannot have it. I tried to make an appointment with the CEO.”

She said his secretary took her information, promised to pass it on to him and get back to her, but she never did.

“I wrote letters to them, but never got replied to it. I am very concerned about what is going on. I know the SWRHA provides a good service, but at the same time, you are not seeing about past retirees who have worked for so many years and provided long and dedicated service.”

Placid said she was not alone as other colleagues who had longer service were suffering the same fate.

In response, Armour apologised for the lack of communication between staff and management. He said he was mindful of the situation, noting that while some processes were handled by the SWRHA there were processes involving the authentication by external agencies that required time.

“Pensions is a bit beyond our control.” Armour along with general manager, HR, Denise Thomas, admitted there was a backlog but said the volume had been reduced from thousands to 200.

Thomas said a dedicated team had been hired to deal with this issue and promised to meet with Placid and review her situation.

SWRHA CEO Dr Brian Armour addresses a public meeting at San Fernando City Hall on Thursday. – Angelo Marcelle

While praised for some of the good work being done, the meeting also heard complaints from users of the Point Fortin Hospital about the cancellation of surgeries owing to a malfunctioning air condition unit there, the absence of attendants to assist immobile patients who attend the Couva facility and security guards acting as intermediaries between patients and pharmacists.

There was also an impassioned plea from a young mother for more developmental paediatric care for neurodivergent children. With the absence of such care, the mother said they had to depend on the private sector, which many could not afford, or even Google to treat their children.

Bemoaning that the wait-time to see the one doctor treating neurodivergent children was a nightmare for patients, as well as parents, the frustrated mother called for more paediatric developmental clinics.

She pointed out not many parents are able to afford private care, outlining the difficulty on a diagnosis that requires occupational therapy, speech therapy, or behavioural therapy that is not available.

Neurodivergence is differing mental or neurological function from what is considered typical or normal. It is frequently used with reference to autism spectrum disorders.

Armour noted that while development paediatrics is developing globally and an increasing burden nationally, he admitted there are insufficient practitioners in TT.

“To get specialist in developmental paediatrics is a challenge. The SWRHA would have attempted to hire a speech therapist, but the person we hired subsequently resigned.”

He said they have since put out advertisements but have not been able to recruit anyone to serve the needs of neurodivergent children.

He said they continue to try, and agreed with the suggestion advanced by the mother to bring the Ministry of Education on board to address this issue as getting professionals in the labour market is an educational requirement.

Director of Health Dr Pravinde Ramoutar said they have been in discussions with UWI to have trainees come to their clinics to offer some assistance.

“Short of that, there are not many people out there in the market. We know it is a limited service we can offer at this time, but as more people become available, we are open to exploring those options.”

In response to questions from Phyllis Brooks, Armour admitted that a problem with the industrial cooling system did result in the cancellation of surgeries at the Point Fortin hospital over the past three weeks.

While they seek a permanent solution to the problem, Armour said contingency measures have been put in place to install split units and extend the hours of surgical services up to 6 pm, over the next few weeks.

In terms of security guards taking prescriptions from patients and passing them on directly to pharmacists, Armour said that was a measure in place during the pandemic, but was no longer in effect.