A patient takes oxygen at the COVID-19 screening tent at Galt Street, Montrose outside the Chaguanas Health Centre, yesterday.

“The Government needs to ask for international help as T&T is experiencing a humanitarian crisis. It should not be about saving face but rather, saving lives.”

This was the urgent plea last evening by the president of the Trinidad and Tobago Registered Nurses Association (TTRNA) Idi Stuart, who cried as he recalled a COVID-positive patient lying on the grass outside the Accident & Emergency (A&E) Department at the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex (EWMSC), Mt Hope – waiting for a bed to become available.

Admitting he was present when the viral video shot by a woman who had been waiting to be triaged at the admissions tent was made, Stuart said, “The public is now seeing what has been happening all along. It is spilling outside of the hospital’s walls and they can’t hide it anymore.”

Shocked by yesterday’s figures both in terms of new cases and deaths which reached new records of 615 and 11 respectively, Stuart said the two field hospitals which were set up at the Couva Hospital yesterday “would not bring much respite for citizens who are seeking care.”

He claimed even though 80 additional beds had been introduced into the system, they would have been filled immediately by patients who had been awaiting admission from several hospitals across the country.

Stuart said the time had come for, “All retired nurse managers and nursing personnel to put on their suits and come out to assist these junior nurses,” as the rapid increase in patients would place a strain on the current resources.

He said, “I am not sure where they are going to get staff to man those field hospitals. I don’t know if the US is going to come in and assist us but we don’t have any staff.”

Revealing the TTRNA had been contacted yesterday to assist the authorities in this area, Stuart said, “There is literally no nursing personnel available.”

He declined to say who had reached out with the request, but Stuart said there were close to 500 student nurses that could be brought into the system almost immediately – but only if they are paid a stipend.

He said the $800 stipend that had been previously paid to this group of persons and was taken away, would be necessary to help them get to and from work.

The TTRNA head sought to underscore just how important nurses are, as he said, “No matter the best intervention of a doctor, if you don’t have that nurse to continue care 24/7, it doesn’t make any sense.”

Stuart who predicted the death rate was only going to get worse in the coming days, said while additional places can be found to house persons – caring for them would be an impossible task without adequate nursing personnel to staff these locations.

Indicating that at least 100 final year student nurses can be brought in during the recommended first phase over one week, Stuart said the average lay-person cannot be placed in the current setting to administer the required medical care.

He said this should be followed by another 100 second year student nurses during the second week – but with increased personnel being brought in, the issue of adequate PPE would also have to be considered.

Recounting what he witnessed when he arrived at the EWMSC just after lunch yesterday, Stuart said, “I was called there by a nurse who was on her last…as the screening tent set up to triage incoming patients was in a mess. The usual system is the nurses test you and if you don’t have COVID, you can proceed to A&E inside. If you have COVID symptoms, the patient is kept outside for further testing. Once you are positive, you will be sent to Couva.”

“When I went today, the tent was hot and it was humid, and the port-a-potty for patients was locked as it was overflowing with faeces. There was in excess of 50 people in one area and an additional 15 people on trolleys to the back without any nursing personnel who were attending to the cramped tent. I saw oxygen finishing and it was a nightmare, and I am just watching from outside the tent. You could see patient families waiting and of course, they are frustrated with the nurses and taking it out on them. Nurses are telling me that some patients have been waiting for four days now…on a bench, on a trolley or a chair waiting to be admitted, which means they have not been showered or tidied. There are a significant portion of patients inside the hospital awaiting admission to Couva and more outside waiting to get in.”

Stuart said though while nurses are trying to cope under the current conditions, it is hard and with record increases – it is uncertain just how long again they can continue to perform.