Questions as wards closed in Kisumu over lack of enough staff

A police officer outside a ward at Ahero sub-county hospital in Kisumu on October 29, 2019. [File, Standard]

Controversy surrounds the decision by the management of two facilities to scale down their operations over lack of enough staff to attend to patients.

Operations were briefly paralysed at the Ahero Sub-County Hospital after the hospital’s management closed the male ward over lack of enough staff.

A similar development also took place at Masogo Sub-County Hospital after the facility’s management suspended night operations and closed the maternity wing over low staff.

In a development that has exposed Kisumu’s fragile healthcare system, the unions of medical workers criticised the failure by the devolved unit to employ more workers and claimed the problem has affected several hospitals.

They claimed several workers are unemployed and have sent their applications for consideration but have never got any feedback. Others claimed the poor treatment of health workers by the devolved unit has forced most of them to quit and focus on private practice.

On Friday, a number of patients claimed they were turned away because of shortage of staff to attend to them at the Ahero Sub-County Hospital.

James Omollo, a middle-aged man said he had gone to confirm the status of his relative who was hospitalised at the facility after they received information that the male ward was closed.

He claimed that patients have been struggling by themselves and only a single nurse makes trips to check up on them.

“The facility was obviously struggling. My brother was admitted at the facility for two days and there was no nurse to attend to him at night,” he said.

Yesterday, the facility issued a memo to staff informing them they were closing the male ward as a result of lack of enough staff to oversee operations.

The acting medical superintendent of the facility Bernadette Achieng directed that the nursing department temporarily closes the male medical ward.

In the memo, she blamed the situation on shortage of staff in the nursing department of the facility.

Dr Achieng directed that no male patients be admitted to the facility.

"Due to shortage of staff in the nursing department, there will be a temporary closure of male medical ward. Therefore, there will be no admission of male patients," she said in the memo.

She further directed that the pediatric ward be shifted to female medical ward and the male ward to be occupied by female patients.

"Consequently, pediatric ward will shift to female medical ward and male medical ward to be occupied by female patients," she added in the memo.

The county government was left battling fires of a public backlash over the status of the facility after the memo leaked.

The department of health in Kisumu has reversed the decision and claimed that the decision to close the ward had been done without any consultation.

Director for health Fred Oluoch said they had reversed the memo he termed unfortunate and dismissed claims that there is shortage of health workers.

"It was already reversed. Kindly receive our sincere apologies," said the director in a text message.

He argued that even if there was shortage that was supposed to be addressed within the department.

The director said they had already deployed some nurses to Ahero county hospital to address the problem of shortage.

"Even if they were supposed to close the wards,  they were to consult which they did not do and then that kind of communication can only come from leadership. We have already sorted their issue by agreeing to transfer to them some nurses there. Equally, we are in the process of hiring more staff. The advert is likely to be out next week," he added.

Deputy Secretary General of Kenya National Union of Nurses (KNUN) Maurice Opetu defended the move by the Ahero Medical superintendent to close the male ward arguing the situation was bad.

"In other facilities people have not talked but they are overwhelmed and demotivated but have to work to serve humanity," Opetu explained.

He claimed the county requires an additional 1000 nurses.

"We are demanding that the county government employ more nurses. We have always put this as an agenda in all the meetings we have held with them. They have only given promises as they complain of budget and poor remittance of funds from Treasury," he explained.

Mr Opetu said there is need for a health service commission that will do employment, distribution or deployment of nurses and other health workers and balance them in all the facilities.

At Masogo Sub-County Hospital, documents seen by The Standard indicate that one of the nurses had absconded duty for more than two weeks while another failed to report back from leave.

Three clinical officers were also transferred and have not been replaced while one who retired has also not been replaced.