Gunshot victims weigh on hospital resources

On any given day, a visit to the orthopaedic ward of the Kingston Public Hospital can be disheartening.

It’s common for a crowd to flock the island’s major trauma centre and spill over into other sections of the facility.

And it’s not unusual for gunshot victims to comprise the majority of the trauma patients. Police data suggest that the majority of perpetrators of criminal violence are males, between the ages of 14 and 25. The same group is over-represented among gunshot victims.

Thursday of last week was no exception at the North Street-based facility.

The gates leading to the wards were teeming with persons wending their way through the passages of the region’s largest medical institution to see their loved ones.

In Stevetson Ward, all 26 beds were occupied. Many had young men nursing gunshot wounds, buckled in bed with hands or legs covered with bandage.

The frequency of violence-related incidents, coupled with the less-than-acceptable conduct of some patients, has transformed the experiences of some health professionals into a living nightmare.

Difficult, terrible and horrible are some of the adjectives which stream from the lips of beleaguered health workers as they describe their day-to-day experiences with victims.

One nurse at the Stevetson ward, which is reserved for males, reveals that she is sometimes tired of the everyday confrontation with gunshot victims.

“It’s difficult to deal with them especially when they are the violent type,” she laments.

She describes the chilling frequency of gunshot cases as appalling, with the young victims being even more disturbing.

“All I do is pray for them and sometimes encourage them to think about something positive in their lives,” the nurse explained.

But even with all the patience the nurse is able to muster, she says the hostility of some patients drives her up the wall.

“It’s not an easy road for us as they want to handle us anyway, but I am not the type to be afraid of them, so I find that they sometimes cause me to be very aggressive with them,” the nurse says.

The problems faced by the medical and support staff at the KPH is magnified across the island as the health sectors continues to bleed profusely from the impact of crime.

As more and more gunshot victims flood the hospital, administrators have to be innovative to meet the demand for space.

The seven wards at the KPH which cater for persons with gunshot wounds and other major injuries are often overcrowded. Stretchers, placed in corners, or wherever there is space, are regularly used as beds.

In 2006, 1,513 gunshot victims were admitted at hospitals across the island, with a little more than half of that number, 766, being hospitalised at the KPH.

There was a slight increase in 2007, when 1572 persons with gunshot wounds were hospitalised across the island, with 738 admitted at the KPH.

Senior medical officer at the hospital, Dr. Patrick Bhoorasingh, said while gunshot victims are not the sole reason for the lack of space at the hospital, they contribute significantly to the demand.

The frequency of violence-related incidents, coupled with the less-than-acceptable conduct of some patients, has transformed the experiences of some health professionals into a living nightmare.

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