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Death Trap?

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The Awful Story of JDJ Hospital

By: Gloria Wleh

The James N. Davis Jr. Memorial Hospital (JDJ) was once operated by a medical humanitarian organization, Medicine Sans Frontieres (MSF), catering to the medical emergency needs of women and children. Their intervention helped improve access to healthcare for many Liberians.  But like all good stories, the MSF-JDJ story came to an end on April 2, 2010 with the turning over of the facility to the Government of Liberia. The hospital has been run by Government ever since but things have not remained the same. In fact, they have gotten worse.

Ma Korpo Lake is elderly and lives in Totota, Bong County. She sells in the market to get her daily bread. In July, she made a trip to Monrovia to cater to Sonnie Morris—her 25-year old daughter on the verge of bringing forth a child.   When Sonnie was grabbed by the pangs of labor, Ma Korpo took her to the St. Benedict Mini Health Center in the Pipeline community, Paynesville. But after three days in labor, the facility referred her to the James N. Davis Jr., Memorial Hospital (JDJ) in Neezoe Community, for surgical operation. She was informed that her daughter was unable to bring forth the baby because the baby was breech.

An anxious Ma Korpo departed for the JDJ in anticipation of a miracle that would save the lives of her daughter and the unborn child. But once at JDJ, things became gloomier.  In addition to the cost of the surgery, the public hospital requested Ma Korpo to purchase fuel for the running of the generator before her daughter is extended medical care. “Because they [St. Benedict Mini] were unable to do the work on my daughter, she was transferred to this hospital (JDJ). But as we arrived with her here, they [JDJ] told us to pay three thousand two hundred and forty Liberian dollars for six gallons of fuel, along with ten thousand and eighty-five Liberian dollars for the operation set, before they (JDJ) could touch my daughter.” “And I am a market woman from Totota, Bong county; my daughter’s fiancé is a security man who is not employed but serves as a contract-security-guard for stores in Monrovia here; we don’t have the money to pay for all of the medical bill, but they (JDJ) told us that if we cannot buy the items they want, they were not going to cater to my daughter who needed urgent medical attention,” the down-hearted Ma Korpo lamented.

Ma Korpo, who looked scared and worried, furthered that while she was terrified  and perplexed about her daughter’s life and that of the unborn hanging in the balance, the hospital kept demanding them to pay for those items before her daughter could be treated.

“We later bought the fuel, but because we didn’t have enough money, we begged the hospital and paid LD$4,700 of the operation set payment, before they attended to my daughter,” she furthered.

“Sonnie’s wound has to be dressed two times daily. We need to buy drugs that cost LD$4,840; including the needles and gloves that are to be used to dress her wound for the next days she is to be receiving treatments; we have gone dry of money to even buy her the first cup of tea that she is supposed to drink every morning and evening; I don’t have anywhere to turn to for help right now”, Ma Korpoe said in a sad tone.

But Ma Korpo is not alone. Like her, Joseph Doe (not his real name) took his pregnant wife to the JDJ for surgical operation, and was also told by the hospital to buy fuel for the hospital’s generator before she could receive any medical attention.

Joseph, who preferred being anonymous, said he had earlier on taken his wife to the Benson Hospital in Paynesville, but was later told by the hospital (Benson ) that his wife needed operation in order to bring forth their child, and that they (Benson Hospital) were unable to carry on such an operation.

“My wife couldn’t give birth all by herself that night, and so she was transferred from Benson Hospital to James N Davis Jr. Hospital for surgical operation, but upon reaching at the hospital, I was firstly told by the hospital to buy six gallons of fuel for their generator, before my wife’s emergency condition could be catered to.”

“I was shocked but with the great fear that was in me of not wanting to lose my wife, I hurriedly paid for the fuel and additional ten thousand plus Liberian dollars  for the surgical materials set, which were also required to be paid for in order for her to be treated.”

“I am till this date confused as to whether James Davis Hospital is a government owned facility, or a private institution. Because even at the private facility where my wife was, there were some services and medical material that were freely given to her,” he added.

“I paid for every single thing at that hospital, including the needle and gloves that were used on my wife. That place is an emergency treatment center for women and children seems to be a death trap for low-income earners who might go there with the thought of it being a government facility that should have affordable services,” he stressed.

The current situation at the James N. Davis Jr., Memorial Hospital in Neezoe, doesn’t seem to be a new issue there, as a Liberian journalist also explained his scenario when his wife was taken there, four years back.

According to Necus Andrews who reports for The News Newspaper, his wife was taken to the JDJ Hospital for Caesarean section (C-section), and he was told by the hospital, to buy six gallons of fuel for the hospital’s generator, before she could be attended to.

“When my wife was taken to the James N. Davis hospital in Neezoe, they told me to buy six gallons of fuel for the hospital’s generator before my wife could be catered to. Adding that the hospital was financially challenged and that it was a tradition for patients who go there to be treated,” Journalist Andrews said.

“I was scared of losing my wife, my child, or both of them; so as confused as any other person could be during such a time, I paid for the fuel and other items as asked for, but for someone who might not have to pay, it might turn out to be a death trap for them,” he noted.

“The purchasing of fuel before treatment at that hospital is a serious trauma-game that is played out on patients who go there for emergency treatments, and it poses a very serious psychological threat to a patient’s life. And even though that place claims to provide a health service, I can safely say that that place is a death trap,” he maintained.

”National government needs to pay very serious attention to the James N. Davis Hospital, by providing the basic materials for the smooth operations of the hospital. Their failure to do so would cause people who do not have the finances to go to this emergency facility for instant service, to lose their lives, or stop them from going there for treatment,” journalist Andrews stated.

When contacted, the head of the James N. Davis Jr., Memorial Hospital in Neezoe, said, “his institution is receiving funding from the government of Liberia, but it is not enough to cover all of the medical needs of the health center which caters to over fifty patients daily.”

According to Director General Anthony Quayee, “requesting each patient who goes to the hospital for surgical treatment to buy fuel for the hospital’s generator is the only means by which the hospital is able to cater to the needs of its patients, without its generator having a breakdown.”

The JDJ boss who also refused to be recorded added that the government has been unable to make available funding to the hospital in full and on time for its operations. Though the JDJ boss was tight-lipped on funding received, and when it began receiving funding from the government of Liberia, our investigation shows that the JDJ and the Bensonville Hospital jointly received US$55,457.00 in the fiscal year 2019/20. The funds received by these two hospitals amount to only 55% of the funding the government provided to Senator Jeremiah Koung’s private hospital (the Esther & Jereline Medical Center in Ganta, Nimba) that year. Meanwhile, the Government has budgeted a meagre US$100,000.00 for the two hospitals in the 2020/21 budget year.

When contacted on Thursday, July 22, 2021, the Minister of Health promised to do some assessments at the James N. Davis Hospital before speaking to the situation. But upon being called back on the 27th of July 2021, as requested, there was no feedback provided by her, as she was yet to carry out the assessment as promised. Other efforts to get the Minister’s comment proved futile.

While we await words from the Minister of Health, we can only say that the nightmarish experiences of Ma Korpo and the likes are only a gist of what thousands, if not millions, of Liberians, go through while seeking medical care. As many citizens visiting public health facilities complain of squeezing water out of rocks to shoulder said costs, we cannot stop but wonder how the nation treats its own. And for those who unfortunately do not meet up with said expenses, we only grind our teeth hoping that not so many have lost their lives in such situations. Until the Health Minister gets back, we continue to ask: Are public hospitals really death traps?

About the Author

Gloria Wleh is a CENTAL Investigative Journalism Fellow and reporter for The Stage Media (TSM).

Editor: This article was edited by Gerald D. Yeakula, Esq., Program Manager at the Center for Transparency and Accountability in Liberia (CENTAL).

Editor’s Note: This article is made possible through the National Integrity Building and Anti-Corruption  (NIBA) program implemented by CENTAL with funding from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) through the Embassy of Sweden.

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