The T&T Registered Nurses Association (TTRNA) is calling on Health Minister Terrence Dyalsingh to provide hazard pay, death benefits and health insurance for nurses now on the frontline battling the COVID-19 virus.

The call came yesterday from head of the TTRNA Idi Stuart, who said the North Central Regional Health Authority (NCRHA) had rewarded the dedication and hard work of head nurse Merlene Placide with only a fruit basket after she died on duty at the Caura Hospital last Thursday.

Stuart told Guardian Media that Placide, a palliative care nurse, took up duty at 1 pm that day on Ward 9 of the Caura Hospital where COVID-19 positive patients are being quarantined and treated.

By 2.15 pm, she had collapsed and died in the full view of her colleagues.

“It seems like she had an allergic reaction to something and by the time she called for help and collapsed there was nothing that could be done,” Stuart said.

It was subsequently revealed that Placide had a severe allergic reaction to seafood she had eaten.

But Stuart said grief of her family and colleagues was only worsened by the response of the NCRHA, which only provided a fruit basket and a wreath for the family as per the RHA’s policy.

He likened Placide to Florence Nightingale, as he said she left her job at a private medical facility to join her colleagues on the public health frontline at Caura on March 13; answering the Government’s call for nurses to come forward in the fight against COVID-19.

“She helped set up that unit, she hasn’t even received her first salary from the NCRHA yet and when we should be celebrating her as our local Florence Nightingale, they are saying that is their policy to give only some flowers and some fruits. This is not someone who died at home, this is someone who died at the hospital while on duty, in front of other nurses,” Stuart said.

He said aside from Placide’s years of training and experience, her bedside manner left a lasting impression on every patient.

“The reason why the staff is taking it so hard besides from clinical knowledge, she had a very good way of communicating with patients and relatives, she had a way about her…and by this lack of caring for someone of her calibre, it raises a question in all of our minds about how the rest of us will be treated.”

Outside of the hospital walls, Placide was also changing lives, as Stuart said she stepped up to adopt three young relatives when their family could no longer care for them.

“Those young children now have to deal with this loss on top of everything else in their lives.”

Stuart said the association had been holding off on asking for hazard pay because they felt doing so during a pandemic might not be appropriate. But now, he said the gloves are off and the association intends to take a stand.

“We are not asking for anything close to what police getting when they die in the field. We understand that may not be feasible, we have been holding off on a push for nurses to have these benefits but come bright and early Monday morning, our written proposals will be on the Health Minister’s desk,” he said.

He said nurses have no health insurance despite being in the line of danger every day.

“In the hospital, nurses face every single communicable disease known to man, COVID-19 is not the only one in the system and if you died after contracting any of these diseases, the NCRHA is saying you are worth a wreath,” he said.

Guardian Media contacted Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh twice yesterday afternoon but both times someone answered his phone saying he was unavailable. Guardian Media was advised to contact the ministry’s communications officer Candice Alcantara for a response.

However, in a release yesterday the NCRHA confirmed Placide’s death, saying it was saddened her sudden passing.

Saying she was a dedicated nurse, NCRHA CEO Davlin Thomas extended deepest condolences to her family, friends and colleagues.

“We share this tremendous loss with our NCRHA family and our prayers go out to her family and those who worked with her,” Thomas said.


 Reporter  Sharlene Rampersad

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