The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit of the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital was the center of scandal in May of 2013, when it was reported that an unusually high number of premature babies – 13 boys and girls – had died in less than three weeks. Of those, eight were found to have contracted enterobacter cloacae, a common-place bacteria that found its way inside the overcrowded unit.
As part of its efforts to address the situation, the hospital began renovations based on recommendations from the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO). The results were unveiled on Monday. Minister of Health Pablo Marin describes what has changed inside the Unit.
“With the Neo-Natal Intensive Care Unit, when we had the situation it was just a small little room. You can see the expansion is three or four times as big. We have ventilator systems, about eight of them. We have two areas [where] you can put any child that has any kind of sickness.
It’s like a three step, we have the highest cases, the middle, and then we have the recovery [area], for them to be able to go.
In the other Intensive Care Unit, we had everything there. We have different people staying there. We have pregnant mothers [in] emergency. Now everything is concentrated in one.
The Maternity Ward will have their own private ward. The Neo-Natal will have their own private ward. That is how we’re moving up.”
Upgrades were also made to the main laboratory in the hospital, named for Maria Sylvestre. But can the revamped NICU and its companion Adult ICU better address trauma and other cases that require ventilation? For the answer we turned to Chief of Staff for the Hospital, Dr. Adrian Coye.
“First of all, we’ve always managed patients that are critically ill in an ICU setting. Now we’ve created a very focused environment for the better management of these types of patients. The patients who end up needing ventilation, or very close monitoring of their cardiac functions, for example after a heart attack, or even a stroke, those kind of patients require minute by minute, second by second, monitoring, and we’ve created a very nice environment for this kind of work to be done.
We do have lots of major surgeries that do happen, and traumatized patients, neo-surgery patients, etcetera. They do need a specific environment for the proper management of these patients. And so, the critical time within the first six hours or so of admission, even the first 24 hours which we always hear about this 50/50 thing, it’s important to have the patient in the proper environment, so that you can have the biggest impact. When there are great delays in that kind of care, then the patient spends a much longer time in hospital, or ends up with many more complications and dies.
So what you want to do is to be able to intervene much earlier, in a very aggressive way, What we have is the best unit in the country, basically what you’re seeing in terms of the resources and everything else.”
According to Dr. Coye’s best estimates about 150 cases come in every year that require an intensive care unit stay.
Chair of the KHMH Authority Chandra Nisbet Cansino says the Hospital continues to address patient needs.
“I would say it’s a very significant increase. You probably want to give a grade, but I’ll give it an A.
I think that the inclusion of the specialists, the inclusion of the staff, we even had the PAHO consultants, that participated in the construction and the operation of both units. So I would say that it is extremely significant for future patients of the Karl Heusner Memorial [Hospital].
This is the premier intensive care unit in Belize for both neonatal and adults, including the private sector.”
It may come too late for exiting CEO Dr. Gary Longsworth who leaves at the end of this month. But he says he has no regrets.
“I’m just grateful for the opportunity that I had to serve at this hospital. Greater things will be done after I’m gone, believe me, because I think we have the caliber of people here, that will continue to move it forward. If the Government and the Ministry is prepared to assist, then there’s no turning back. It’s only going to get better.
When I asked for a renewal, and I was asking for one year, that was it, I mean it was denied. I was told I could re-apply, but I am not interested in doing that. Why should I do that? That’s like redundancy.”
The renovations to both ICU’s cost about $800,000 between them. Works are still progressing on the brand-new NICU sponsored by the Special Envoy for Women and Children Kim Simplis-Barrow.