Lawyer claims PAHO investigation political ‘pappyshow’ as parents never interviewed

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Elisha Felix and Stephen Rodney pose for a picture last Christmas prior to the birth of their daughter Azariah. Azariah died at the Port of Spain General Hospital on February 19. –

PARENTS whose babies died at the Port of Spain General Hospital’s (PoSGH) neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) have described an independent investigation by a three-member Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) team as a “political pappyshow,” since they were not even interviewed.

The claim was made in a preaction protocol letter sent to the North West Regional Health Authority (NWRHA) on April 27, as another mother joined the class-action lawsuit claiming negligence in the deaths of 16 premature babies, seven of whom died between April 4 and 9 of a bacterial infection.

The woman said her baby died on February 19, from “presumed sepsis” while warded in the NICU.

The letter, signed by attorney Sue Ann Deosaran of Freedom Law Chambers, said while their clients are happy with how quickly the PAHO team concluded its in-country work, they are concerned about the lack of transparency and fairness of the process. This is because it said none of the mothers or fathers whose babies died were contacted to provide a statement or be interviewed by the investigators.

“How on earth could an investigation be conducted into the death of these babies without interviewing their mothers who were the patients? Their experience at the PoSGH at the hands of the doctors and nurses is of obvious and critical relevance to such an investigation. It is patently unfair for the investigators to listen to what the doctors, nurses, and management have to say and base their findings on this one-sided version of what transpired. Our clients are human beings and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect because we are all equal in the eyes of the law and no one should be above the law,” it said.

The letter said this omission explained why their clients’ repeated calls for an independent representative of their choice as part of the investigating team were rejected “without any form of explanation.”

“It is clear that this investigation was nothing more than a political ‘pappyshow’ designed to do political damage control. It is nothing more than a public relations stunt designed to quell public outrage and anger over the death of these innocent babies.”

In a release on April 26, the Ministry of Health said between April 22 and 26 the PAHO team met with officials of the ministry and NWRHA to “conduct a debriefing exercise arising from the in-country mission.”

It said PAHO’s review will continue and, upon completion, a report would be submitted to the ministry.

While the parents take issue with their omission from the PAHO investigation, the letter said they were also left out of the NWRHA’s internal inquiry.

Joining in the class-action suit are market vendor Elisha Felix, 29, and taxi driver Stephen Rodney, 34, who lost their seemingly health baby girl, Azariah on February 19. Although the NWRHA has only confirmed seven babies died at the PoSGH’s NICU within the first week of April owing to the presence of three bacteria, media reports suggest 23 babies similarly died at the hospital from as early as August 2022. Azariah would be the 16th case to join the action against the hospital.

The letter said Felix and Rodney were excited to welcome their first baby after being together for two years but now they are left grappling with overwhelming grief over her loss.

The following is the letter’s account of what transpired before the baby’s death:

On February 4, Felix was transferred from the Sangre Grande Hospital to PoSGH where she gave birth to Azariah at 30 weeks gestation via a caesarian section (C-section). Due to her preterm birth, Azariah was warded in the NICU for observation.

On February 7, the couple was allowed to see their baby for the first time and were overfilled with joy. However, they were informed by medical staff Azariah had jaundice and an infection so she was being given antibiotics. Despite questions about the infection, they were reassured by the nurse these complications were common among premature babies and would soon be resolved.

Over the next few days, Azariah’s condition improved. Her jaundice and infection had subsided allowing her to come off the antibiotics and ventilator. She showed signs of progress by consuming a small amount of breast milk. Discussions were underway to have her transferred to the Sangre Grande Hospital.

However, one day her parents saw her reconnected to the ventilator and were told by a nurse Azariah was placed on stronger antibiotics.

On February 18, Felix and Rodney received a call from the NICU, instructing them to come in urgently as the matter could not be discussed over the phone. On arrival, they saw several doctors surrounding their daughter who was now hooked up to several tubes and equipment, swollen from head to foot, with her hands and feet turning blue. They were informed she would need to be ventilated again and blood was taken from Felix for a compatibility test should a transfusion be required. They were allowed to see Azariah but needed to wear a surgical gown and gloves, a new requirement.

On February 19, they were again called and asked to return to the hospital immediately. Arriving, they found Azariah in a worse condition with doctors saying she was not responding to treatment and had developed a condition called disseminated intravascular coagulopathy – a condition that causes clotting in blood vessels throughout the body. Though confused by the diagnosis, they were reassured by the doctor that this was completely normal to occur in premature babies.

Later that day they received the news that Azariah died. Her death certificate listed “presumed sepsis” as her cause of death, a detail they claim that was never disclosed to the parents.

“While initially, the couple did not question this discrepancy in Azaryah’s cause of death, their perspective has since shifted upon learning about similar situations faced by other parents in recent times. They now wonder if the same bacteria present in the NICU at the time of the cluster of babies’ deaths in April had been present all along and if the medical staff were simply concealing it from them all that time.”

The letter said the NWRHA and its agents were negligent on several fronts and should it fail to settle with its clients, it would be seeking general damages inclusive of aggravated damages, special damages, exemplary damages, interest, costs and any further relief the court deems fit.