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Nurses at the Port-of- Spain General Hospital.

The request comes in the wake of the death of head nurse Merlene Placide at the Caura Hospital last week. While Placide’s death was not COVID-related, the anxiety of the fraternity has once again been heightened after what nurses claimed was the poor response to the North Central Regional Health Authority following her death.

Placide volunteered her services for COVID duty and reportedly set up the virus unit at Caura. However, following her death, the NCRHA only sent a fruit basket and a wreath to her family, as per policy with RHA’s. This prompted calls for hazard pay, death benefits and health insurance nurses now on the COVID frontline.

In a 10-page letter Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh on Monday (April 27), the TTRNA, which is headed by Idi Stuart, proposed that a $1 million disbursement be paid to the beneficiaries of nurses “in the unfortunate circumstance that he or she dies while on duty or in route to or from duty as a direct result of work.” It said the cost to the Government is to be determined.

The TTRNA also asked for tiered Hazard allowance for nurses and midwives working in hazardous situations. It said this will cost Government $9,182, 520 per year.

The third request is a proposal for a contributory and mandatory Health Insurance Benefit at $500,000 over a three-year period to be administered through the TTRNA’s existing policy with TATIL. The expected cost per year to the Government, as worked out by the TTRNA, is $12,600.

At the COVID-19 news conference yesterday, Deyalsingh said Regional Health Authorities were gearing up to approach the Chief Personnel Officer (CPO) to discuss medical coverage for the healthcare providers. He said he discussed the matter with the CEOs of all the RHAs yesterday and was told that all RHAs “have some sort of insurance for healthcare workers; healthcare workers in general, not a particular group.”

However, notwithstanding this, he said the RHAs will be seeking to do more for the frontline workers.

“I am told they are looking to go to the Chief Personnel Officer to see what other additional coverage can be offered but this has to be done using the process available with the Chief Personnel Officer,” Deyalsingh said.

In response to this, Stuart said his association was pleased with the announcement.

“However, we continue to be confused with the repeated statements made by officials that nurses already receive some measure of health insurance. For the record, nurses do not receive any form of health insurance or any other benefit from the RHAs,” he said.

Stuart said the TTRNA is mindful Deyalsingh also said the Cabinet has already approved significant sums to the COVID response to be used by the RHAs but said he does not envision any problems in accessing more if needed.

“Therefore, the association and its members, while thankful, are a bit disappointed that the Government did not see it fit to be proactive and provide these benefits for staff who are directly working with suspected and positive patients, and it took the death of a nurse and the agitation of TTRNA to jolt the ministry into action,” he said.

Yesterday, Deyalsingh reminded the country that Cabinet approved $157 million to deal with COVID-19 and that his ministry has got everything it asked for.

“So I see no financial challenges moving forward dealing with COVID,” he said.

At the briefing, Deyalsingh also said the National Academy for the Performing Arts (NAPA) is now operational and four health care workers are currently being housed there, while 12 more are expected next week. He said the facility will be used to quarantine medical professionals after they deal with COVID patients.

On Monday, police officers received word that they will now be covered by COVID-19 insurance with an agreement between the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS) and the Guardian Group.

Those covered under the specialised Guardian Life plan will be entitled to $10,000 if they contract the virus. Should they die as a result of COVID-19, their dependants will receive an additional $25,000. The coverage period is 12 months but will be subject to review depending on how the COVID-19 issue develops.