BusinessDay

UPTH: How medical directors throw in salaries to save emergencies

...Diesel alone consumes over N30m per 40 tonnes

Urgent appeals have gone out to the numerous multinational corporations, other corporate bodies, and deep-pocket individuals in the south-south to come to the aid of the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital (UPTH).

The needs of the teaching hospital are said to be so numerous that the senior medical staff led by the Chief Medical Director, Henry Ugboma, have to keep throwing in their salaries to save emergency situations.

The UPTH has been in the storm of late over a perceived slump in service delivery and orchestrated power and water supply decline. Some news feeds claimed between 14 and 19 premature babies in the incubator died.

Taking questions from a cross-section of the press during the week, the CMD said the UPTH needs urgent interventions from IOCs and other non-governmental groups.

Ugboma made it clear that the foremost medical research centre in the South-South cannot be left to grapple with burdens that seem to crush it.

Every CMD that passed through the UPTH has always cried pointed to the fact that the teaching hospital has been made to function across the category spectrum: primary, secondary and tertiary levels. The communities that donated the expansive landmass upon which the hospital sits harbour full sense of entitlement.

Ugboma told newsmen that indigent patients fill the wards and hardly paid their bills. Often, the medical directors have to come in and throw in their personal funds and salaries to rescue emergency situations. Yet, many emergencies pile up.

Outside human emergency situations, many other big impact crises call for intervention. One of such emergencies is power supply. According to the CMD, “Diesel is very expensive and we use two trucks of 40,000 litres with N30m per month before the transformer blew up. When the transformer blew, we used double of that. One truck takes not more than eight days because we run 24 hours. Unless when we cut down to only sensitive areas.”

Ugboma went on: “Talk to multinationals to help us. The state (Rivers) does not help us one bit, yet we (medically) manage everybody in the state. We owe Port Harcourt Electricity Distribution Company (PHED), we owe suppliers, and we buy diesel.

“We had issue with the transformer that supplies this place. It blew up. It is a very heavy one. We invited PHED to see what they can do, but we have other fall back generators: four heavy duty ones and six smaller ones dedicated to some sensitive sections and units of the hospital.

“Internal revenue alone is not enough to sustain us. It’s not easy for government alone to maintain this place. Consumables cannot be enough, but we are doing our best. It is a pathetic situation. People need help, they are poor. Some organisations help us, but we need more. People who come here are more than those who go to the churches.”

The professor said almost every organisation is facing financial stress, even as he said Nigeria as a country has financial problems.

“I have never said we do not have financial problems. I want to say that we staff put in our little resources to help.”

Another aspect that gulps huge sums is mosquito eradication programme.

“We are standing on top of water. If you go to the basement, the water is high. We spend a lot of our resources to fight mosquito. Fumigation is rampant and it takes huge resources. That is why we plead with NGOs and multinationals to help us. We do our best to manage this. We need much help and intervention. Government cannot do everything. There are centres where individuals come and take care of indigent patients, some build facilities. Yes, we got some support but we need more. The crowd coming in here is huge. Our equipment and facilities are overused.”

Keep politics, intrigues away from medical facilities

The CMD said it was necessary to respond to the barrage of attacks and sensational reporting about the UPTH in recent times.

“I must let you know that false information can lead to death. It can lead to the death of citizens that would have come to the hospital to solve their problem but stayed back due to doubt in their mind created by false information,” he said.

He further said that newsmen must realise the special place the UPTH occupies in the medical care delivery in the South-South.

“This place trained most of the doctors that manage and run various healthcare centres around the region, and beyond. This is also a referral centre; that means that it is that place of last hope in emergency health situations. It is the place you hope to refer to when the primary and secondary centres have failed.

“All the experts you can think of are found here; and so, complicated cases are brought here to resolve. Our radiology centre boasts of some of the rarest and best equipment that you can think of anywhere in Nigeria.

“If you scare those who need these services away through false information and sensation, what would you have done? We have always warned that politics should be kept far away from hospitals where lives are saved. Settling scores should not be the objective of journalistic adventure. Such game should not be brought close to any medical centre.”

He made it clear that most teaching hospitals around the country also face teething problems. “Government is trying its best, and the staff members here are doing their best. The least they need is distraction in the form of false information.

“In the past weeks, the issue of power supply problem has been in the media, both social and mainstream. On allegations of death of babies, I must say that no baby died. Imagine the pain of reading that the hospital lost 14 to 19 babies in the incubator. The story went very far, went worldwide. It is amazing how anybody will think that babies would die under the watch of some of the best experts; that they would sit back to watch babies die? Those stories were such an embarrassment to the UPTH and to Nigeria as a country.

Ugboma reminded people that the UPTH does not live in an animal kingdom where babies would be left to die off under the watch of experts. “The reports even talked about using torch to do surgery. Haba! How could anyone write that relations were relations were the ones holding light (torch) for surgery to take place”.

He urged the media not to listen to people who have grievances and want to use you to ventilate it. We know every establishment has detractors. “Yes, we have diesel problems but it is being solved. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) machine cannot be left unpowered any moment; else, damage worth over N25m will occur because the helium that powers it will run down. Some sensitive units that must be powered all the time include MRI, intensive care unit, incubators unit, etc. We ensure that light is in these places at all times. We hope people know there is no perfect place anywhere in the world.”

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World record and other feats

Ugboma said the same UPTH that most detractors now demark has posted some world records under his watch. The place set world record when they delivered a baby at 24 weeks. The baby was discharged weighing 1.5kg.

The CMD revealed a feat achieved under his watch. “The UPTH had lost almost all its accreditations before we came on board, but we have got all of them back, fully. We must have done well to win these accreditations and to merit second term.

“There are persons that contested with us but lost. We position is that if you don’t win, you wait to contest next time. These accreditations mean that we did well. People can come from far and near to train and go back.

“Our centre was first to begin to manage COVID-19. It was even an issue. We had an isolation centre. We have isolation centre, best of all. This infectious diseases management, we are ahead of most others. The best experts on it are here. We excelled in Covid-19 era and one of our experts was picked by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and sent to Malawi to help. We have a very strong infectious diseases control unit and we are ready to battle any new infection. We hardly shout about what we do, but if you investigate, you will find out. We are equipped, we are ready. We use this place to train others to go back to their centres to excel.

Need for positive messaging

He said: “It is not necessary to send incorrect information. I can be reached and my officers can also be reached in case it is not easy to reach me.

“We rather appeal to you journalists to convey the need for multinational corporations and International Oil Corporations (IOCs) to help this institution. For instance, the PHED has asked us to look for money to pay for a transformer. Imagine where patients hardly pay their bills; they beg and beg for waivers which we are forced to grant from time to time. Yet, we are required to look for huge sums to procure a transformer. You can go round and see patients in the wards that can’t pay

“We are willing to name any project any project after the philanthropist built for us here. Use your skills to attract support for us. Leave politics out of it, but, let’s build this place.”

Refuse

During questioning, Ugboma said the UPTH attracts visitors in massive proportions. “Many visitors come here every day. You may have to find out when disposal of trash takes place here so you can know when the place truly is filthy.

Mosquito swarms

“Mosquito control is managed by environmental department. We fumigate this place every 90 days, sometimes less, but this place sits on water and is surrounded by water. We spend so much to control them. We have appealed to everybody to help us, even if it is to fumigate the place regularly. The waters grow mosquitoes. We need help. Government alone cannot do everything for us. People coming here need help, people are sick. Facilities are overstretched.”

Why the attacks

He guessed why there arose sabotage and a battery of attacks in the media. “Federal facilities are seen as APC while any facility in this state is seen as PDP. Some wonder why I was returned for second term, but we point to our achievements.”

Scarcity of nurses

He said: “Am sure all of us are in this country and we hear about brain drain going on in Nigeria at the moment, but we have permission to hire local hands and get approval later to convert them. We are allowed to engage clinical staff even though there is ban on employment. We engage and get permission to employ, and convert. That does not mean you don’t have lapses. Someone may be ill or so. When we get report, we act.

“Some of our staff members are undergoing trial by the professional bodies. But, such isolated cases do not represent the standards here. We go extra mile to save lives. One woman came here with ruptured womb. We used our resources to save her life but she took us to court; that we should have allowed her to die instead of removing her womb. Thank God we won the case because the truth came out. We have enough manpower to man the hospital. We cannot have anything less than three or four persons at the emergency unit. Somebody may come when there is not enough persons but that does not mean that the place is not always manned. We have phone numbers and SERVICOM unit to report if things are not going well. This is a federal establishment and people like coming to Port Harcourt for medical treatment. They know our standards are high.

“Water problem: It was caused by same power problem. We have generator for the water plant. The generator may have some issues and PHED is not constant. This gap may make water to be off. But these things do not last.”

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