St Ann’s Bay Hospital staff angry over alleged COVID-19 incentives denial

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STAFF at St Ann’s Bay Regional Hospital (SABRH) are furious over alleged denial of COVID-19 incentives by hospital CEO Dennis Morgan.

The allegations, sent in an email of complaint to the Jamaica Observer, state that despite approval from the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service (MOFPS) for a six-month continuation of the COVID-19 special incentive payment of $3,000 per day, multiple claims submitted on a monthly basis, since the extension, to the office of Morgan have all been denied. This, according to the allegations, comes even though the submissions meet the MOFPS prerequisites for submission of COVID-19 claims.

The COVID-19 special incentive payment initially covered the period February 1 to July 31, 2020 and was extended to cover August 1 to January 31, 2020.

The complainants further told the Sunday Observer that different reasons are given by the office of the CEO as to why claims have been denied, some being that ’19’ was left off of the COVID-19 roster.

The staff members also say the most recent reason given to accident and emergency (A&E) staff was that their department is not a designated isolation area, therefore they cannot claim.

“Accident and Emergency has a respiratory triage where all patients with respiratory symptoms entering into the facility are screened. Everyone must pass through A and E in order to be admitted,” one complainant said. “We have three designated isolation areas and no claims for any of the staff members working in those areas have been approved. Doctors and nurses have been exposed to COVID-19 in and outside of these areas and had to be sent home for quarantine, and claims have still been denied.”

In addition, the complainants claim that SABRH is the only facility where claims get no further than the office of the CEO, and described the allegation as unjust.

When contacted by the Sunday Observer, Morgan rubbished the allegation that no claims for staff members working in the three designated isolation areas were approved.

“This is absolutely untrue,” he asserted. “Since the start of the COVID-19 incentive payments programme, millions of dollars have been paid out to staff assigned to the St Ann’s Bay Regional Hospital upon those claims meeting established protocols, including the definition of terms and prerequisite[s] for submitting claims.”

Further, Morgan said the allegation that claims are not getting further than the CEO and the labelling of the alleged action as unjust are not supported by facts. He said there were staff members who have still refused to resubmit their claim after being, for instance, told that key information or details about work done was missing or unclear from their submissions.

Moreover, Morgan sought to further set the record straight by first outlining the process for authorising COVID-19 incentive claims from his desk.

Morgan said it is indeed correct that the Government extended the payment of COVID-19 incentives to staff working in isolation and quarantine facilities. He said, in the first instance, the payment covered the period February 1 through July 31, 2020, and was renewed in the second instance to cover August 1, 2020 through January 31, 2021.

The SABRH CEO continued by explaining that health care workers assigned to the hospital involved in the treatment and care of suspected or confirmed cases would be eligible to receive payment providing they meet the established criteria as set out in the Ministry of Health and Wellness’s established ‘Definition of Terms’ and ‘Prerequisites for Submission of Claims’, which include the proper completion of the authorised claim form.

In cases where a claim form is either not fully completed and/or is not accompanied by other documents such as an approved roster and register, or where details of work done are not clear, the CEO said the claim is returned to the supervisor of the department from which the claim originated for correction and resubmission.

Morgan said, in most cases, the corrections are then made and returned to his desk for signature.

“Once a claim clears my desk, which is around 95 per cent of all claims submitted, it is then sent to the auditors at the regional office — North East Regional Health Authority [NERHA] — for further review and payment,” which can take up two months due to the large volume of submissions from across the NERHA network, Morgan said.

He continued by pointing out that at the start of the pandemic last March, three areas — ISO1, ISO2 and ISO3 — at SABRH were designated to handle suspected or confirmed cases. He said these were eventually expanded to cater to the demand of COVID-19 cases at the facility. Morgan said staff assigned to those areas and who submitted COVID-19 claims were paid accordingly.

Regarding payment, Morgan said at SABRH, between August 2020 to December 2020, COVID-19 incentive payments made to doctors and nurses totalled approximately $4,266,000; while orderlies and attendants were paid $3,146,700. Other staff categories, for example, emergency medical technicians (EMTs), lab technicians received payments totalling $2,546,400 over the same period. In December 2020, Morgan said, a total of $2,346,000 was paid in COVID-19 incentive claims to doctors, nurses, EMTs, porters, and others. For the pay period ending January 8, 2021, Morgan said a total of $870,000 in COVID-19 claims was processed for staff paid on a fortnightly basis.

He added that people working in the expanded areas, such as A&E, would be eligible for the COVID-19 incentive payment by following the prerequisites for submission of claims.

Morgan, however, said it is not until formal communication is received from the senior medical officer (SMO) designating additional areas for the treatment and querying of suspected or confirmed cases that the processing of claims for payment commences.

“The reason for this is to ensure that the facility is in keeping with the established protocols, and only eligible staff — that is, those directly involved in the treatment and care of suspected or confirmed cases — receive payment,” he said. “In cases where claims are submitted before I receive from the SMO communication informing me that an additional area is being designated to handle a suspected or confirmed case, that claim would be returned to her and a request is made for information concerning the designation of the areas from which the staff making the claim would have provided direct treatment or care of suspected or confirmed COVID-19 cases. Depending on the length of time it takes to receive a response, there might be some delay in reviewing claims.”

Evidence of this was shown to the Sunday Observer by Morgan in a memorandum regarding ‘COVID Claims’ dated November 10, 2020 with reference number CEO-M 085-2-2020, which was sent to the SMO at SABRH, Dr Tanya Hamilton-Johnson, outlining that the claims were returned for the aforementioned reasons. On November 20, 2020 the SMO responded, outlining the designated COVID-19 areas used by A&E staff.

Morgan encouraged the complainants who are experiencing issues relating to their own individual claim to come and speak with him directly and work to have the matter resolved.

“We have an internal mechanism to handle disputes, which provides for an appeal to the regional director – my boss – if I have made a decision an officer is not in agreement with. The truth is, hundreds of COVID-19 claims have gone beyond the CEOs desk where payments have been made to eligible staff,” he said.

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