Minister laments 'attitude problem' among hospital staff

Four months after taking over as the Minister of Health, Faimalotoa Kika Stowers has identified improving staff attitudes and changing the mindset of nurses as among the most pressing challenges for reform in the health sector. 

In an interview with the Samoa Observer at her residence this past weekend, Faimalotoa struck an optimistic note and said that, despite the challenges, the transition and implementation of new projects and policies is proceeding smoothly. 

The motto that Faimalotoa lives by in her Ministerial duties is apposite: "nothing is impossible". 

In February, the National Health Service and Ministry of Health were merged, after a Commission of Inquiry appointed to review the merger. 

A report that came out last year called for fundamental changes in the attitudes of all health sector workers, and the need for a nationwide 'resetting' of priorities across the sector to make patient needs the foremost priority.  

In April, Cabinet appointed Faimalotoa to take over the health sector and see through the merger. After four months, the Minister says the “attitude problem” is slowing fading. 

According to the Minister, the number one complaint made by members of the public relates to nurses' attitudes. 

“They are the front line when the patients who are seeking assistance arrive at the hospital. And they are actually the backbone of the workforce, hence they need to change their attitude to the public," she said. 

“At least a smile. It gives hope to the patients and their families, because sometimes the patient arrives and they are just sitting around.” 

She said customer service is an important component of any hospital. 

Secondly, the Minister has been working on instilling teamwork exercises for the nurses and doctors. 

“In the past the nurses and doctors [had] a silent standoff, but we have been able to get them to work together for one purpose is to save lives, and that is their sole purpose of working at the hospitals," she said. 

According to Faimalotoa another issue that needs addressing is the waiting time to see the doctor. 

“The goal set for waiting time is 15 minutes tops. It shouldn’t be more and the public should not wait longer than that," she said.  

“We have 14 new doctors on board and three new contracted doctors that will rotate within the main hospital, the district hospitals and the outreach program with the women’s committee. 

These are efforts to eliminate complaints from the public and that to provide a good service.” 

Another issue the Minister lamented is the unhygienic condition the hospitals were in when she first took over. 

“When I came on board, I saw this was one of the areas that was lacking, the maintenance crew. I made some changes and after one whole month; there were no changes, I outsourced the maintenance," she said. 

“The maintenance crews are now tasked to work at the district hospitals, and if they fail to do their job in the district hospitals they have no place in the national hospital.” 

The Minister said the crews have been warned that poor performance will lead to termination of employment and that she would not hesitate exercising those powers. 

Faimalotoa told this newspaper that there were times she did impromptu visits to the hospitals, and had the opportunity to see first the real issues. 

“I don’t really like to read thick reports, I want to see it for myself and when I come across an issue I get in my car and go to where the problem is at. And that has been very helpful in my line of work," she said. 

"I address the issues (and) at the same time come up with solutions in moving forward, just by conducting these unannounced visits."

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