Two years on, lit­tle ac­tion on Fort Welling­ton opi­oid abuse com­plaint

-whistle­blower law still to be op­er­a­tionalised

Stabroek News Sunday - - LETTERS -

More than two years af­ter nurse Sher­lyn Marks com­plained about the abuse of pre­scrip­tion med­i­ca­tion by a Re­gion Five coun­cil­lor, there have been no reper­cus­sions for the per­sons en­snared in the mat­ter and whistle­blower leg­is­la­tion is still to be ac­ti­vated de­spite be­ing passed.

Stabroek News reached out re­cently to the Med­i­cal Coun­cil of Guyana (MCG) on the mat­ter but has not yet re­ceived a re­sponse. In 2016, Marks had com­plained about the abuse of an APNU+AFC coun­cil­lor in ob­tain­ing opi­oids from doc­tors at the Fort Welling­ton Hos­pi­tal. Af­ter the case was pub­licly high­lighted, Marks was abruptly trans­ferred to the Bath/Ex­per­i­ment Health Cen­tre, where she re­mains.

Mean­time, when con­tacted on the whistle­blower leg­is­la­tion, At­tor­ney Gen­eral (AG) Basil Williams said he was hope­ful that al­lo­ca­tions from the 2019 Bud­get would see the start of im­ple­men­ta­tion of mea­sures un­der the leg­is­la­tion.

“We have to get fund­ing, have to get fund­ing for all of them…as you would recog­nise from these things, the in­fra­struc­ture has to be put in. The frame­work re­quires money to deal with all of those things,” Williams told Stabroek News.

Asked if he had put in pro­pos­als for monies in the 2019 Bud­get to cater for this, he replied in the af­fir­ma­tive, adding that “well hope­fully,” he gets the money he needs.

In Jan­uary, the Na­tional As­sem­bly by ac­cla­ma­tion passed the Pro­tected Dis­clo­sures Bill in or­der to pro­tect per­sons mak­ing spec­i­fied dis­clo­sures of im­proper con­duct, in good faith and in the pub­lic in­ter­est, from detri­men­tal ac­tion. It was as­sented to by Pres­i­dent David Granger on Fe­bru­ary 12th of this year, ac­cord­ing to Par­lia­ment records.

Many per­sons have ar­gued that the APNU+AFC gov­ern­ment has made it eas­ier for per­sons to openly speak out against abuse of the sys­tem as com­pared to the pre­vi­ous PPP/C ad­min­is­tra­tion, and has lauded them for the pas­sage and as­sent­ing to the Whistle­blow­ers law.

But, in re­la­tion to Marks’ case, more than two years af­ter, lit­tle has been done. A for­mal com­plaint was made last year by PPP/C Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment Harry Gill against Dr Stephen Cheefoon, Dr Ivelaw Sin­clair and Dr Adrian Van Nooten, who are all at­tached to the Fort Welling­ton Pub­lic Hos­pi­tal, in West Coast Ber­bice. Dr Cheefoon is also the Re­gional Health Of­fi­cer of Re­gion Five.

Let­ters were writ­ten by the MCG to the doc­tors named in the com­plaint while sev­eral per­sons were ques­tioned and the Fort Welling­ton Hos­pi­tal’s log book was scru­ti­nised by the MCG in re­la­tion to pre­scrip­tion nar­cotics to see “the fre­quency of how the drugs were pre­scribed and ad­min­is­tered.”

Gill charged that the doc­tors fa­cil­i­tated for­mer Re­gion Five coun­cil­lor Carol Joseph, who was ac­cused of abus­ing her au­thor­ity to ac­cess large amounts of pre­scrip­tion pain med­i­ca­tion.

Thus far, nei­ther the Min­istry of Pub­lic Health nor the Min­istry of Com­mu­ni­ties has launched any in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the case.

Joseph re­signed from the Re­gional Demo­cratic Coun­cil on April 21st last year, two days af­ter Stabroek News pub­lished a re­port on her al­leged abuse of med­i­ca­tion.

The mat­ter had been drawn to the pub­lic’s no­tice by Gill af­ter Marks re­ported to him that her com­plaints to se­nior med­i­cal of­fi­cials about the Joseph case had been ig­nored.

Marks was abruptly trans­ferred by Re­gion Five Re­gional Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fi­cer Ovid Mor­ri­son af­ter the news item on Joseph’s case ap­peared in this news­pa­per. Mor­ri­son’s trans­fer of the nurse has been con­demned and there have been calls for it to be re­scinded. The Min­istry of Pub­lic Health sub­se­quently said that Marks had breached pub­lic ser­vice rules and that it had sent her to the De­part­ment of the Pub­lic Ser­vice for ac­tion.

Marks’ trans­fer was never re­called and to­day she re­mains at the Bath/Ex­per­i­ment Health Cen­tre. She told Stabroek News that since the trans­fer she has not been met with any hos­til­ity and is com­fort­able at the lo­ca­tion she was moved to and is “do­ing okay.”

‘Win­dow Dress­ing’ While Gill is hop­ing for the swift im­ple­men­ta­tion of the whistle­blow­ing leg­is­la­tion so that oth­ers who want to be like Marks would feel safe know­ing they have le­gal pro­tec­tion, he be­lieves that gov­ern­ment does not want this. “This Whistle­blow­ers Act, like most of the Acts passed by this ad­min­is­tra­tion, seems only to be for win­dow dress­ing. They have no in­ten­tion of act­ing on it, be­cause if they do, then they would have to con­demn the ac­tions of Ovid Mor­ri­son and Min­is­ter Lawrence, who did noth­ing to pro­tect this nurse who reached out (to) them. She was try­ing to get help for Carol Joseph and was pun­ished,” he said.

“There are oth­ers who would like to come out, I know. I am afraid that if the leg­is­la­tion is acted upon, a lot of se­nior min­is­ters of gov­ern­ment would find them­selves in hot wa­ter be­cause some of their own func­tionar­ies are guilty of per­pe­trat­ing these acts of wrong­do­ings and abuse of of­fice,” he added.

And as per­tains to the three doc­tors, the com­plaints were looked at by the MCG and one had to un­dergo su­per­vi­sory prac­tice and re­me­dial stud­ies while the other two have to await the pro­nounce­ments of the MCG’s Dis­ci­plinary Com­mit­tee.

It is un­clear if de­ci­sions on their cases have been reached as the MCG has not re­sponded to Stabroek News’ in­quiries.

How­ever, back in July of this year, Head of the MCG, Dr Navin­dra­nauth Ram­bar­ran had said that the in­ves­ti­ga­tion cen­tred par­tic­u­larly on the con­duct of the doc­tors in their treat­ment of Joseph from 2009 to when the com­plaint was lodged, and whether there was any im­pro­pri­ety in pre­scrib­ing pain med­i­ca­tions dur­ing the pe­riod of man­age­ment, as ini­tially re­ported by Marks.

The Chair­man said that he wanted to un­der­score that the MCG’s reg­u­la­tory role in in­ves­ti­gat­ing this case cov­ers only the prac­tice of the med­i­cal prac­ti­tion­ers. “Even though re­ports from oth­ers, in­clud­ing Ms Carol Joseph and Nurse Marks, were taken into ac­count, it is not within the re­mit of the Coun­cil to form opin­ions or make rec­om­men­da­tions at any point in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion re­gard­ing these in­di­vid­u­als as they are not med­i­cal prac­ti­tion­ers,” Dr Ram­bar­ran said.

He had ear­lier ex­plained that the send­ing of the find­ings to the Dis­ci­plinary Com­mit­tee “does not nec­es­sar­ily mean that any­one is guilty, it is just the pro­ce­dure that we take, ac­cord­ing the Med­i­cal Prac­ti­tion­ers Act.”

No one from gov­ern­ment has ever com­mented on her case.

‘Re­gional Treaty’ But in Sep­tem­ber, the AG as­sured whistle­blow­ers that their com­plaints will still be heard and acted on while the Act awaits im­ple­men­ta­tion. “They can blow the whis­tle. There should be nor­mal pro­tec­tion un­der the law and any­one who wants to blow the whis­tle, feel free to come for­ward and blow the whis­tle,” Williams said.

He stressed that full im­ple­men­ta­tion would re­quire mil­lions of dol­lar and the fund­ing is cur­rently un­avail­able. “As you know, hav­ing read them, a lot of struc­tures have to be erected and a lot of peo­ple put in place… It goes hand-in-glove with wit­ness pro­tec­tion and you have to move peo­ple around un­der wit­ness pro­tec­tion and a lot of them could ac­tu­ally be moved out of Guyana to dif­fer­ent places. So, it is some­thing that is be­ing looked at… these mat­ters would re­quire the at­ten­tion of the Min­is­ter of Fi­nance and the avail­abil­ity of fi­nanc­ing,” he said.

Not­ing that the leg­is­la­tion “must be ac­ti­vated” given its im­por­tance in fight­ing cor­rup­tion, Williams, how­ever, stressed that money is not ex­actly “in a back­yard where you just go and pick it off a tree.”

He said gov­ern­ment has had to find bil­lions of dol­lars to off­set bailouts and heavy court judg­ments. He added that the gov­ern­ment still has one such court judg­ment, which is “like a bud­get it­self,” to pay off. The AG stressed that as soon as money is avail­able, the Pro­tected Dis­clo­sures Bill and the oth­ers would be fully im­ple­mented. “As you know, we

were told on the 4th July that we are very rich,” he said in ref­er­ence to the dis­cov­ery of oil and im­ply­ing the money nec­es­sary for the full im­ple­men­ta­tion of cer­tain pieces of leg­is­la­tion will be se­cured.

Williams said that to the best of his knowl­edge, no one has made use of the whistle­blower leg­is­la­tion. He re­it­er­ated that per­sons with dis­clo­sures are free to con­tact him.

The AG wants the pub­lic to know that Guyana is sig­na­tory to a treaty that could see them re­lo­cated to sis­ter Cari­com coun­tries, if need be. He ex­plained, “We have a re­gional treaty; de­pend­ing on how safe or un­safe, you can turn to an­other coun­try. Guyana might be big and you might say you cool in some area and you go to Port Kai­tuma. But then, some­body sees you and they recog­nise you and say ‘Eh is wuh hap­pen­ing Basil?’ Then some­body goes on Face­book and says ‘you know I see Basil in Port Kai­tuma’.”

He was hope­ful that money will be had from the 2019 Bud­get. “It is some­thing, the fund­ing has to come in,” he said.

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