NWRHA willing to compensate parents for NICU deaths

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

The main Entrance to the Port of Spain General Hospital –

The North West Regional Health Authority (NWRHA) is willing to settle with families whose babies died at the Port of Spain General Hospital’s (PoSGH) neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

However, the compensation comes with the caveat that the authority will not accept liability for the deaths.

The parents, through their attorneys, have declined the offer of what they believe is tantamount to “hush money.”

Representing the NWRHA is the firm Pollonais, Blanc, de la Bastide & Jacelon, which wrote to the families’ attorneys at Freedom Law Chambers on May 3.

The letter included scathing criticisms of the firm for its handling of the proposed lawsuits, which the NWRHA said were being used as political tools, and reiterated requests for proposals for compensation to the aggrieved families without the admission of liability.

It said: “We continue to eagerly await such a response, having requested such a proposal since 19th April 2024. Should you make a reasonable proposal, grounded in law, it may well lead to settlement of your clients’ claims, by way of ex-gratia payments without admission of liability, which will obviate the need for litigation and the unnecessary expense of retaining foreign experts. We are of the view that this course will be far more reasonable and beneficial to your clients, rather than the course that you have advised in your letter,” it said.

Newsday was unable to reach the office of the RHA’s attorneys on Tuesday evening, but the letter was verified by the NWRHA head, Anthony Blake.

Freedom Law Chamberrs: Parents won’t accept ‘hush money’

Responding to the NWRHA, Freedom Law Chambers denied the request, saying it amounted to accepting “hush money.”

“As we have repeatedly indicated, our clients would be happy to settle these matters but NOT on the basis that there is no admission of liability of the PoSGH. Mothers have expressed their view to us that this would be tantamount to selling the souls of their babies and have provided clear instructions that before any matter can be settled, there must first be an admission of liability by the PoSGH,” it said.

“This is not simply about money as the NWRHA seems to think. Our clients are in pursuit of the truth and want their justice to be based on the truth. This is extremely important because they are of the view that the system is broken and they want to ensure that remedial measures are taken to prevent any other mother from having to undergo such a traumatic and painful loss as they have.”

Since last month, parents of 19 babies have joined in a class-action lawsuit against the NWRHA for medical negligence after their babies died at the PoSGH NICU. The majority of the babies died between January and April 2024, with three predating these, going as far back as June 2022.

In a release on April 11, the NWRHA confirmed that babies died from bacterial infections during an outbreak in the NICU between April 4 and 7. The next day, Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh revealed in Parliament that seven neonates died of the infections during this period.

The NWRHA’s letter did not indicate which of the parents it would be willing to pay in its proposed no-liability compensation.

This is a point the families’ attorney wanted to be clarified out of “curiosity.”

An internal investigation was launched into the deaths, along with an independent one by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO). The in-country leg of the inquiry was carried out between April 22 and 26, but the investigation is ongoing. A final report is expected to be submitted to the Health Ministry.

The families said they were never interviewed as part of the PAHO investigation or the NWRHA’s internal one.

To advance their legal redress, the families asked the NWRHA to pay for a foreign specialist medical expert to review their babies’ medical records. However, the authority refused, saying it was unnecessary, given the PAHO inquiry.

In its recent letter, it further argued that not only was the expert unnecessary because of the inquiry but also because there appeared to be enough clarity in the minds of the attorneys to make public decrees of negligence.

“It is apparent from the contents of all your letters thus far, gratuitous media interviews and newspaper reports and articles, that you have already come to the conclusion that there was, as you have frequently put it, gross negligence, which view you formed even before receiving the medical records. There must, of course, have been some factual basis for your conclusion in this regard, which you felt strongly enough about to make public, as well as the basis to call for mass resignations. It is pellucid that you have come to this view without the need for any medical expert opinion.”

The letter also dismissed claims that the parents of two unrelated babies who died in June 2022 and December 2023, respectively, are yet to receive the reports of internal investigations into their deaths.

The NWRHA said while these babies died under its care, it was from conditions associated with being pre-term births, so these cases did not necessitate an internal investigation.

“The circumstances in both cases did not warrant these deaths as being classified as ‘adverse events,’ and as such, there was no need for any internal investigation to be carried out at the time of their deaths. Accordingly, the parents could not have been promised any internal report, as none was done in the circumstances of these cases.

“For the avoidance of doubt, there is no need to carry out an investigation every time a neonate or a person dies, once the death is consistent with their medical condition.”