Take it somewhere else!
This was the strong contention of outraged parents of children attending the Ursuline Convent School (UCS) this evening as they outrightly rejected the Government’s plans to site a disease treatment centre next door to the UCS.
In tears, one father declared that if the plan should proceed and the centre is located so close to his child’s school, he intended to make it his mandate to contact his attorney to get an injunction to stop the isolation unit from functioning.
“I am very serious about it,” he warned during a heated meeting, which was chaired by Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health Tennyson Springer and Chief Medical Health Officer Dr Joy St John.
“If I have to spend my last cent I would do it, and I am asking all the other parents in here to let’s come together and get something done to stop that from opening, because it’s not their children, it’s our children,” he said to loud cheers from the large gathering in the school’s auditorium.
Despite assurances given by the authorities, the parents were adamant that they wanted no part in the current plan, which they believe not only puts the lives of their children at tremendous risk, but could also affect the school’s survival.
“There will be a lot of parents who might be so afraid that you cannot handle this situation that are going to mass exodus the school and put their children somewhere else. So you are directly affecting the profitability of the school. And I don’t know if you all really considered that because these parents are here because we have now realized that you all are only here to answer questions and the decision has already been made,” one upset mother said.
Another parent, who is a medical doctor, described the decision to put the isolation centre so close to the school as one of the “worse” decisions he has ever seen.
The doctor, who said he accepted his own risk as a frontline worker in the treatment of patients with disease, said it was medically known that children and geriatric patients were most vulnerable to contracting infectious diseases.
“I don’t understand why it had to be close to the [Queen Elizabeth] hospital, because it is an intensive care unit and you will not be transporting patients to the hospital. Bloods will not be going to the hospital, they will be going overseas,” he pointed out, while suggesting there were three reasons why the authorities chose to situate the infectious disease centre at the Enmore clinic, a mere 20 feet away from the school.
“It’s there, and it’s easy and cheap,” he said, adding that the closeness of an incinerator to deal with waste management and staffing were the other important factors.
“I am totally against that [the isolation unit] being [next to the school],” he said, stressing that “while I understand my risk and I understand your [health authorities] reasons, I am not only talking about Ebola, I am talking about all communicable diseases,” the doctor stressed.
The Government was also warned by members of the expressive, and at times loud gathering, that if it persists with the proposal for treating Ebola and other victims of infectious diseases next to the school, they would move their children elsewhere to continue their education.
“I think as parents we need to exercise our power as was mentioned by a number of speakers. Other schools have closed down because of bad smells and pigeon droppings . . . I know if we keep our children home something is going to happen, one thing or the other,” another parent suggested.
Susan Chinnery, administrator of UCS, said the establishment of the unit so close to the private learning institution, had also come as a shock to the school’s management, as she sought justification for the move.
“Was there an environmental impact study carried out?,” she asked.
She also pointed out that the 650 plus individuals who spend the day at Convent do not actually live on site.
“They return each evening to homes in every parish in Barbados,” she said, noting that “this is not just a UCS concern.”
The school official also wanted to know: “Who made the decision? Where are the town hall meetings that prepare people, provide information and most importantly precede action? Where have they gone?”
In an attempt to provide answers, Springer, who was interrupted on occasion, noted that the centre was approved by the Pan American Health Organisation. He also sought to assure parents that protocols were being followed, and the appropriate provisions implemented.
He told the parents and the school’s management that while officials understood their stance on the matter, the ministry was not out to harm the children, who it was lawfully mandated to protect.
“We are convinced from all of the studies that your children are safe. As a matter of fact your children are safer here than they are in the public park, at the airport or somewhere else,” he said.
Before the session was halted by Chinnery, Dr St John further assured the upset parents that the ministry would take on board their concerns and suggestions.
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