The Health Services Authority’s Chief Nursing Officer Dr. Hazel Brown, speaking on Rooster 101’s Crosstalk show on Tuesday, recalled the stresses and pressures faced by healthcare workers in Cayman at the height of the COVID outbreak in the Cayman Islands.
With continuing low numbers of imported cases, no local transmission since last year, and no COVID-related hospitalisations since January, fears over the coronavirus have eased among many in Cayman, but there was a time when it threatened to overwhelm local health services.
Brown, along with HSA CEO Lizzette Yearwood and Health Minister Sabrina Turner, commended the work of Cayman’s healthcare workers both at a time when COVID cases were appearing locally and during the current vaccination programme that has seen 72% of the estimated population receiving at least one dose of the vaccine.
‘No-one knew the struggles we faced’
“The public didn’t see it because the healthcare workers handled it on the inside,” Brown told Crosstalk host Chanda Glidden. “There was a time we had five COVID patients admitted. There were times when we had critically ill COVID patients on a very tiny unit, with very limited staff. We had to handle it.
“This is why I keep saying we’re victims of our own success because nobody outside the four walls of the HSA knew the struggles our staff were facing on the inside.”
She said, at one point, the Cayman Islands Hospital’s small Respiratory Care Unit was full, and there were also COVID patients in the Critical Care Unit.
The hospital also had to shut down half its maternity unit and place those women in quarantine because a contact of a patient had tested positive for COVID after the woman had been admitted, Brown said.
She had much praise for nursing staff who spent days and weeks away from their families to ensure they did not expose them to the virus.
“All the pictures on social media of nurses stripping down at their front door, and all these memes, that’s what our staff were doing,” she said. “They were stripping at the front door; some were being hosed down at their front doors before entering the house.”
COVID pressures at home
She said some staff, including single mothers with young children, did not have childcare options because, at the time, domestic helpers and nannies were required to live in their employers’ homes and some opted not to do so.
“There were lots of challenges, and they met it with such grace,” Brown said.
Yearwood added that some of the Public Health team removed themselves from their households if they had vulnerable family members, and were housed in government accommodation, “because they did not want to risk exposing their families at home”.
Back then, in the weeks and months following the first reported case in Cayman on 12 March, staff were seconded from other government departments, like Environmental Health, the Dental Service and even the Turtle Centre, to help Public Health with COVID testing and contact tracing.
“We could have 50 positives out there that we were following up on a daily basis. Nurses were working seven days a week, some days we didn’t see the sun,” Brown said.
Once the local transmission cases eased off, many of the staff working on taking swabs for PCR testing and contact tracing, moved over into the vaccination programme, which launched in January this year when the UK supplied Cayman with Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines. Vaccination clinics are currently closed, because all doses have been used up. A fresh batch is scheduled to arrive on 16 June.
Celebrations as last dose of current vaccine supply administered
Brown described the reaction of healthcare staff at the Owen Roberts International Airport on Saturday when the last dose was given. The government had run a ramped-up campaign to ensure that the vaccines would be administered before they expired at the end of June.
“Those people who were at the airport on Saturday had quite a show of the celebrations we had,” Brown said, adding that the man who received the final dose had only gotten it because the person in front of him had decided at the last minute not to get vaccinated.
Yearwood said on Crosstalk that workers in the vaccination programme were having some welcomed breathing space and time off, as they had been working six days a week since January.
A day of appreciation for healthcare workers on the testing and vaccination fronts will be held on Friday at the Kimpton Seafire resort, she said.
Once the vaccination clinics reopen on 17 June, 4,000 people will be due for their second doses, Brown said. On 17, 18 and 19 June, only second doses will be administered at dedicated clinics, and Brown said she hoped that 1,500 people a day would show up to get their shots.