…Commends MD for turning around hospital
From Chidi Nnadi, Enugu
When the Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Folorunso Adewole, was coming to Enugu on August 1, he had only one stone in his bag – to be part of the town hall meeting organized by the Federal Government for the people of the South-East.
But when he arrived at the Coal City state he decided to use the one stone to kill other birds by visiting the federal hospitals in the state.
Thus as soon as the town hall meeting was over in the evening, the minister set out to visit the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, Ituku-Ozalla, National Orthopedic Hospital and the Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital, Enugu.
When Adewole got to the Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital, Enugu, at about 6:30p.m; most of the workers who were supposed to have closed work at 4:00p.m were enthusiastically waiting to welcome the visiting minister.
They did not know that the minister had heard much about the hospital, where he said he gets at least 10 petitions on a weekly basis.
When the complaints became much, the minister said that he called for the personal file of the Medical Director, Dr Jojo Onwukwe, in Abuja and after going through it he was satisfied that he was properly given a second tenure despite the claims of his traducers.
So, when Adewole saw the workers coming to welcome him and beaming with smiles he called on the agitators to sheathe their swords and close ranks to work with Dr Onwukwe to further move the hospital, which the medical director has began to remodel to a modern facility from the secondary school it used to be.
Dr Onwukwe, a renowned psychiatrist who was a pioneer staff when the Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital, Enugu, began in 1997, was happy that the minister took time out to visit them so that he could see for himself the modest efforts he had made in transforming the place from a secondary school status to a modern hospital since he became the medical director.
Beaming with smile, Onwukwe said: “We are highly honoured by the presence of our Minister of Health. The last time a Minister of Health entered into this place was in 2009. Normally, people don’t like to associate with psychiatric patients in psychiatric hospitals; people avoid them, even the relatives of our patients avoid coming in here during the day time; so, it trickles down to the society. So, they will say is it psychia, oh it’s very late when I come next time I will visit the place and at the end of the day nobody will come.
“So, I feel humbled for the coming today of the honourable minister, sir, this is a small place, a psychiatric hospital in the Nigerian context is a small hospital, we are treating mainly patients; on the average we see more than 10 untreated new patients every five days and their kind of sickness takes months and years.
“Part of the problems we have here is that we cherish a lot of abandoned patients; we consider it unethical to open our gates to tell patients to leave this place because you are owing; once a patient enters here whether he or she was brought by a relative or not that patient will be treated immediately.
“Let me quickly say sir that over the years, I’m the third by the grace of God of the medical directors in this hospital; this place was not ab initio proposed to be a hospital, it used to be New Haven Girls Secondary School, Enugu, but two years after the civil war crisis, the government of the East Central State removed the girls to another location and started this psychiatric hospital inside the secondary school.
“So, we are trying to modify and now change the secondary school into a hospital and it has not been easy, but we are trying by the grace of God.”
The medical director also told the visiting minister that they have some crucial challenges, chief among them was their trying to disseminate psychiatric health care into the communities, saying that they are lucky it has for the first time been captured in the present budget.
“The Lot One of our budget this year, they opened the tender box today, it is advocacy on awareness programme on the South-East states of Nigeria. We intend in Lot Two to have a psychiatric clinic attached in primary health facilities in three senatorial zones of every state in the South-East, that is three per state and 15 for the region,” he said.
Pointing out his remodeling efforts, he said; “This modest building, when the Federal Government took over this place in 1996 and it practically started in 1997; I came over from LUTH (Lagos University Teaching Hospital) and we started here in April 1997 and we have been trying to modify classrooms, dormitories, hostels, into wards. So, this building was awarded in 2012 and it is ready now although we have not equipped it.
“The make-shift classroom where we had our administrative offices, we had modified to have five offices of psychiatric consultants. We also completed our e-library block which was also awarded in 2012; we have also done some other projects like the administrative block of the School of Nursing, the examination couch, and the classrooms. The present administration of this hospital brought in the School of Mental Health and Psychiatric Nursing, we have done three, four batches and we have been having 100 per cent.”
He also said that they need some of their projects to be concluded even as he complained that their overhead was so low, saying that the last time they had overhead was in June and it was N2.7 million.
He, however, disclosed that each month they buy diesel between N2 to N3 million as the hospital has light for 24 hours.
“So we have problem of diesel and we pay N1.5 million every month to EEDC; so we need at least N9 million to run this place every month, but our resources are so low, so we are managing to keep this place going.
“Also I want to thank my members of staff despite our being tagged a crisis zone, but when you enter into this hospital you will be confused because you will be asking where is this the place they tagged a crisis zone? We don’t have crisis zone here, I am a psychiatrist and know that crisis is not the best thing.
“I want to thank my staff because they have been level-headed; despite all the things happening around other hospitals, strikes, this hospital has not had a strike in the last two years, both JOHESU, both Medical Association of Resident Doctors, we believe there must be a way out to keep the place working. I did not achieve that because of my prowess, but because of their cooperation, because they are ready to work,” he said.
The minister after listening attentively to the medical director said that no doubt a psychiatric facility is essential to life.
“One of my teachers, a foremost psychiatrist said that there is a little bit of psychiatric ailment or morbidity in every one of us and if you look at yourself critically you will notice something odd about yourself. There is something in all of us, but what people detect is depression, where people go naked and so on, but that is just a small fraction of psychiatric morbidity that we see on a daily basis.
“So, when people talk about madness I say that is not the correct word, it is just an English word, there is nothing like madness in psychiatry; you are so crucial and important. And going to the communities is the best way to go because it is like trying to retrace your track.
“So, I want to thank you for what you have done, it takes only a psychiatrist or a group of psychiatrists to turn a secondary school into a hospital, so I appreciate you,” he said.
Then the minister opened up on his feelings about the hospital based on the reports getting to him in Abuja:
“And then I want to openly tell you that there is hardly a week I don’t get up to 10 petitions from this facility, whether it is coming from here or from outside, even today, I got one, but each time I see you I say that you don’t look like someone who can harass people, so maybe it also takes a psychiatrist to overcome this. This morning I got a text that you use cultists and use some people to harass them, you imprison them, that is why I said where is JOHESU, what is the problem.
“Even when we fight all these wars we must sit at the conference table. Let me tell you after the series of petitions I decided to pick your file, I read and saw that you are serving at the prerogative of the President and that is the truth, and it is only the President who can remove you; I can write a recommendation to Mr President and say please remove him, but you are serving at the prerogative of the President.
“But the other bit is to reach out to the opposition, what are the issues, why can’t we have peace, what are they fighting for, if they are your colleagues, those who are agitating could be those who competed with you, let them be a little bit patient even five years will soon pass, eight years will pass and you cannot be here for life; your tenure has a limit and it will end one day and then they can come in. I must ask the CMDs here, is there something sweet in this your office that is causing problem every time? Open the windows, call them to meetings, put your money on the table and say look this is what I have received, maybe the pressure will be less.
“I looked through your file, the management of the facility made their recommendation, recommending you, their recommendation went to the permanent secretary, the permanent secretary made a letter to the minister and the minister approved and the letter went to the presidency and the presidency approved it and you got the letter. To me, that was the correct track, the recommendation came from the board. And we should just allow things to go, when you complete your term, then we will advertise and then we move on, that will be my recommendation.
“But please hold regular meetings, hold out the olive branch. Please tell the others that they should work with the MD and develop the place and those who want to take over from him should exercise patient for their own time will soon come, they should start warming up.”
Adewole who promised to provide computers for the e-library of the hospital also said he would help them complete one of their projects by putting it in the 2017 budget.
“On your uncompleted projects, things are difficult now, so prioritize them, don’t do new projects, complete the old ones you have before you embark on new ones.
“I thank you in what you are doing, maintaining some level of sanity, I will wish all the best. I thank the management for working together; please help him reach out to the others. Help the MD to broker peace and let’s work together, support him to move this place forward,” the minister said.
The minister also called up the former Chairman of Joint Health Sector Unions (JOHESU) and now ex-officio member of the body in the hospital who was in the hall, Pharmacist Chidiebere Eze, to give him a graphic picture of what the problem in the hospital was and she said:
“The issue here is of who becomes the medical director, that is number one; people are fighting because they want to become medical director because they feel that our current medical director should leave for them to come in for reasons I don’t understand.
“The second issue is that people don’t want to sit down to do the right thing, when you know that you have done the wrong thing and you have committed some criminal offences and you are given a query, you feel because you are a labour leader you will not follow what the management is telling you; go and answer your query and if you are called at the disciplinary committee, go there and tell them what you have done and probably seek for leniency, but they don’t want to follow the rule of law, we have civil service rules and some of the staff here who are agitating have committed things against the civil service rule and they don’t want to sit down to listen. So honourable minister sir, we don’t have any problem with our medical director.”