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Poor state of hospital restrooms warrant attention

All is not well at the Tupua Tamasese Meaole National Hospital [T.T.M.] at Moto’otua – if the state of the restrooms in this multimillion tala health facility are any indication.

The Samoa Observer documented the poor state of the facilities on Wednesday, when it visited several restrooms on the ground floor and the second floor of the national hospital, in response to concerns being raised by members of the public.

A story titled “National hospital restrooms in poor state” was published in the 29 October 2020 edition of the Samoa Observer. It had details of the dilapidated facilities that did not have running water, showed visible signs of poor hygiene and sanitation, including unflushed human waste. 

There were also urinals and toilets that were covered with plastic by hospital staff as they were derelict, forcing guardians and visitors to either look elsewhere within the national hospital or go off the premises.

A patient’s guardian – who had never visited the hospital before and was seen on Wednesday walking around with a toothbrush looking for a tap with running water – told the Samoa Observer that he was shocked with the poor state of the bathrooms.

“I mean it’s really unhealthy like today, I came out to use the bathroom outside of the patients’ rooms and the tap is not working and I don’t know where to go to freshen up,” he said.

“Lucky for my wife she had shower in the patients’ bathroom which is shared with the other patients in the same room hence why I don’t use it.”

It is shocking that there appears to be no sense of urgency shown by the hospital management to fix these facilities, especially after being through a measles epidemic that claimed 83 lives in 2019-2020 and now the COVID-19 global pandemic.

In fact for the T.T.M. – which is now a referral hospital for the country’s six district hospitals as well as the Malietoa Tanumafili II [MT2] in Savai’i – it is unacceptable that the bathrooms are in a poor state as it makes the hospital vulnerable to becoming a breeding ground for harmful germs and bacteria.

A fully functioning hospital would have policies that would ensure staff use a daily checklist to clean all the facilities, to ensure they are well sanitised and thoroughly cleaned, to avoid the spread of infection. 

It appears the T.T.M. management has such a system in place, as confirmed by a senior janitor in an interview with this newspaper, though she blamed the poor state of the restrooms on reckless use by members of the public.

But blaming members of the public for the malfunctioning restrooms will not restore the water supply or get the urinals and toilets working, nor address the rising risks associated with the spreading of diseases as the clock ticks while the disrepaired amenities lie unattended.

For a $128 million project paid for by Samoa’s taxpayers, surely the Ministry of Health [M.O.H.] has an annual budget for the upkeep of the country’s national hospital, which would include funding for the maintenance of its facilities.

The irony behind the dilapidated state of the bathrooms at the T.T.M. is the extensive awareness that the M.O.H. has done over the last 7-8 months on COVID-19, and how the absence of hygiene and sanitation can increase the risks of infection.

Perhaps, the Ministry’s focus on the public and the community in its awareness programs has led to it overlooking the impact that the poor state of the national hospital’s amenities could have on its overall infection prevention and control strategy?

It is a worry that the poor state of the amenities at our national referral hospital has not caught the attention of the hospital management or even the M.O.H. executive over the last couple of months. 

Is the Ministry facing funding constraints that even the basic maintenance of urinals, toilets, hand sinks and the restoration of water supply to taps in hospital bathrooms is becoming a bridge too far?

Amidst the celebration following the nomination of 200 candidates from both sides of Samoa’s political spectrum for the 2021 General Election, citizens would hope the current Government has not taken its eye off the ball in terms of service delivery, especially in the countdown to the polls next April.

This includes funding for the health sector to ensure that even the basics, such as maintenance of restrooms at the nation’s premier health facility, continue to function for the benefit of our people and their health.

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