Nurses Walkout At Western Regional

Healthcare workers from every major hospital across Belize shook the country this morning when they staged multiple, simultaneous and staggered walkouts and protests. It started in the west at the Western Regional Hospital as the shift workers stepped out of hospital doors and onto the streets at 7:30am - leaving only a skeleton staff in the wards.

And then it was a domino effect - the healthcare workers from the Southern Regional Hospital, San Ignacio Community Hospital, the Punta Gorda Hospital, the Northern Regional Hospital, the Corozal Community Hospital and the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital all left the posts with their posters and placards to send one united message - "pay us what we've earned!"

But the money they're missing is only a part of their problems. The nurses, doctors, lab techs, and pharmacists are all lacking basic supplies and medicines to do their jobs.

And today they wanted the government to know: enough is enough.

Courtney Menzies was on the ground in Belmopan this morning and she has this story.

Healthcare workers in the west, the north, the south and right here in Belize City walked out of their respective hospitals with their placards held high and marched through the streets in countrywide protests.

And these nurses, doctors, drivers, and even lab technicians all stood united because for years they've been dealing with being underpaid and overworked - but the trigger that launched the protests was that they are all working far more hours than they are being paid for.

And in the Capital City, at the country's second largest hospital, the workers walked out at 7:30 and paraded through the nearby streets of the Western Regional Hospital.

The nurses explained that even with their pay being cut short, they're still expected to buy basic supplies - like food and water - during their shift.

Nurse, WRH
"Whenever the overtime comes in, it is always short, we are not being paid in full what we are working for and we're tired of this. Sometimes we have to join together to buy even basic water for us to drink on our ward when the water is finished. We're entitled to one meal per shift, and that is only during the morning shift and if you go to the kitchen sometimes the cook will tell you the food is finished so if you don't have money to buy your food then sorry, you're on your own. And it goes a long way. We don't have enough gas, we're being told that we have to utilize the gas wisely, you can't tell me to utilize gas when I'm doing a delivery if somebody is bleeding and bleeding and I have to limit what I'm using. Everything nurses have to find a way to shortcut everything so we could make everything run like, stretch everything like elastic."

Nurse, WRH
"Most staff here work 12 hours but what they are saying that we cannot say that the whole 12 hours is our regular shift, they say at 8 we have to start to cut off and after that, thereafter is overtime, so like the nurse explained, when you're working your four 12 hour shifts, they're not counting that as 40 hours, they're only counting 4 days, 8 hours a day, and the rest as overtime. And then like that now, we're always cut short for our regular time that we need to give for the month and then we get some crazy overtime but at the same time, there's a limit to how much overtime you can get so they cut everybody's flat pay, then they cut the overtime at sixty hours so when they say, oh, 84 hours overtime, you're not getting paid that, you're getting paid only the 60 and on top of that, they cut the regular time."

Lab Technician, WRH
"When it comes to the laboratory department we give a lot in terms of our hours, to the government and to our patients. We deserve a fair pay, it seems only right. I'm not saying that we are perfect but we try to give our hours and we stay here long after 5pm to assist with blood donors sometimes and that's more than most government officers would stay. Yet, government only sees 8 hours out of those 12 hours as regular time and they pay us the remaining four in overtime, which is completely taxable, so all the overtime that you make goes right back to government and that doesn't seem fair, if they think we're making too much overtime, then get enough staff to cover it."

Driver, WRH
"It's kind of frustrating in a way because a lot of us out here have stress. I can't go to WASA, I can't go to BEL and tell them that I didn't get pay so I have to try to put it off. It's kind of rough."

"We as a unit of drivers, our thing is, when it comes to the pay, that's one of our main thing. Working and not having money to take home to your family, take home to your wife, explaining to them that this is the situation that's happening and at the end of the day, we just could try. A lot of things here breaks up families."

But these workers wanted to make it clear - it's not just about the money. It's about the inability to do their jobs because they lack the basic resources - which, most times, they would also need to purchase out of their own pockets.

The nurses and doctors explained that they're trying to save lives - but they can only do so much without the right equipment.

Nurse, WRH
"We're not only fighting for ourselves out here but we're also fighting for the Belizean public as well because when you come to the hospital and we don't have what we need to work, then how will we provide adequate care for you, how will we give you optimum care. We're saying our vision and mission of the ministry is that we will give exceptional care and we will give the patient this type of care and that type of care but if you're not providing us with the resources, how could we do that?"

"We don't have basic things like tape, we don't have tape if we were to put an IV on someone, we had masking tape the other day to put IV's on patient. Some staff had to go and buy tape from Brodies and all over the place where we could find medical tape because there was no tape here in the hospital, there was no pampers, staff took to Facebook to beg the public to donate."

Doctor, WRH
"There is a serious lack of medication in this country. We understand there were difficulties during COVID, we understand that there have been challenges. But now, we're in a situation where, you see a lot of discrepancies as it were in the news in other ministries, one might say, poor spending, and all that is going on when, here, at an institution that is vital to any country, our country, we are seeing these lack of basic needs to serve our public, so how can you been spending on one side on things that are, in my mind, not as important, and justify all of the wants that we have in the hospital."

"To use an example, I had a patient with hypertension and I am unable to treat him with my resources, I can tell him what he needs but now he has to go out and figure out how he's going to get it. So what are we doing here? Are we just dispensing prescriptions? Is this healthcare?"

WRH Caretaker
"We cannot do magic with little or no resources, the resources is terrible, when it comes to gloves for us to work with, some of us don't even have the right size to put on our hands. When it come to medication, we have to send our patient to the different stores or to the different pharmacies to buy medication."

And it was just two years ago when these same healthcare workers were lauded as heroes - the frontline workers during the COVID pandemic.

Now, they say they're feeling more like zeroes.

Nurse, WRH
"That heroes from the beginning was just to make us be out here to work and put our lives in danger, they have been treating us like zeros for quite a long time. No heroes, zeros, because if we're being treated like heroes then we wouldn't be standing out here this morning."

PCA Worker, WRH
"Lately on the news you guys would hear that Social Security has been giving loans in millions to people who already have, the rich is getting richer and the poor is getting poorer. We pay Social Security every month and on no circumstances we can walk through Social Security door and go and ask for a $2,000 loan and it will be granted to us. Bear in mind it is our money, all of our money, that make up those millions that is going to be paid or loaned out to the rich out there."

And following the protest, they're call is simple - make healthcare a priority:

Courtney Menzies:
"So what's your call to the ministry today?"

Doctor, WRH
"The system as a whole needs to change and we've been saying this, they realize this, and I think even the older physicians that have been here for years realize this, the system needs to change. There needs to be a radical change with the way we do healthcare in this country, there needs to be a greater importance on not only healthcare, education, other areas, but speaking for healthcare, there needs to be an obvious importance placed on healthcare."

San Ignacio Staff Also Walked Out

And now moving further west - the San Ignacio Community Hospital doesn't even have antibiotics - and today even children were on the compound protesting alongside the healthcare workers. ...

Corozal Community Hospital Workers Also Strode Out

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PG Medical Professionals Join The Chorus

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Bernard Puts A Quick Pause on Protest

So, all that you saw was the crisis: healthcare workers at all public hospitals abandoning their posts for an hour or more at a time, to protest. And it had the desired effect. As they say...

KHMH Came Out in Solidarity

And so while those matters all relate to government managed hospitals - the KHMH Authority is different. It's a statutory corporation with its own board of directors, which employs its own ...

KHMH Protest Was Spirited

And two hours after that interview, the KHMH staff launched a solidarity protest. Now, this was not a walkout - and only off duty nurses staged a small protest on hospital grounds. 7 ...

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Nurses Stage Walkout Country Wide in Protest of Poor Working Conditions and Salary Deductions

Nurses across the country have been staging walkouts in protest of poor working conditions and salary deduction. In light of these protests, the Ministry of Health and Wellness and the Nurses Association of Belize issued a joint release, following a meeting in Belmopan this morning. According to the statement, the meeting was held to address, "pressing issues confronting the nurses and the larger medical community". After two hours of discussion, between the Ministry of Health and Wellness, the Nurses Association of Belize, the Ministry of Finance, and the Ministry of Labor, five resolutions were agreed upon. Those agreements are that the mode of calculation for overtime hours would be updated and that short hour deductions which occurred for the August pay period will be reverted back to all staff members. Additionally, further reconciliations will occur for the next pay period for any discrepancies which may have occurred during previous calculations. It was also agreed that the method for calculating sick leave and vacation leave will be reviewed. The Public Service Regulations and the Government Workers Regulations will also be reviewed to reflect regulations for shift workers. Minister of Health and Wellness, Kevin Bernard, elaborated on these points via Zoom. But before that, we take you to the nationwide protests that sparked all these changes with immediate effect. News Five's Paul Lopez reports.

Paul Lopez, Reporting

Across the country, public health nurses walked out of their respective workplaces in protest against poor working conditions and salary deductions. The walkouts began on Saturday at around 4 p.m., with nurses at the Southern Regional Hospital.

Voice of: Nurse: Southern Regional Hospital

"It hurts us every day to have to come to a place knowing that the reason why we come is because we care for our patients. We really care for our patients. The hurt that we go through is deep."

This morning, nurses across the country, from the Corozal Community Hospital, the Northern Regional Hospital, the San Ignacio Community Hospital, and the Western Regional Hospital staged similar protests.

Nurse Dorita Pineda, San Ignacio Community Hospital

"We here we are all from the University of Belize Midwifery program. We are here to show Belize that we are not standing out here for a finance purpose, but we are here for the service we are out here to give. We are expected to give service with low resources. People post on Facebook the service they get. When they don't receive the service, they state that they receive a bad service. But, do they know what it is like for the nurses and doctors to come up with resources, to fight for resources, to request for resources, to beg for resource. It is not easy."

Nurse, Western Regional Hospital

"Every month our overtime is being cut. We are being told that we owe hours. Nurses can't understand how we own hours, when every month we are working forty eight hours per week. Our regular hours are forty hours. So, if we are working forty eight hours times four weeks, how could we owe hours. And, whenever the overtime comes in, it is always short. We are not being paid in full what we are working for, and we are tired of this. We are tired right?"

Reporter

"How long would you say you guys have been working under these types of conditions?"

Nurse, Western Regional Hospital

"For quite a long time, not recently, this has been going on for quite a long time."

The President of the Public Service Union of Belize, Dean Flowers, was also out at this morning's protest in front the Western Regional Hospital.

Dean Flowers, President, Public Service Union

"What is hypocritical is that we were singing praises for them two years ago, we were applauding them, and in the same breath we have continued to hold them hostage under the kind of inhumane, unsanitary and not the best working conditions. Some idiot from the Ministry to Finance passed a rule that nurses must give account of every single hour that they work. It is unfair that they have to give account for every hour, but the masses of public servants do not have to do so. They did not create their schedule. So, the fact that you only have them working thirty six hours for a specific week is not their fault. So, you cannot turn around an penalize them and deduct from their substantive salary, four hours. What about the average public officer who go to work nine and ten o'clock and they till get their full pay?."

Nurse Dorita Pineda

"You have people that came to a pay check at this end of month with two hundred dollars, Attendants and PCAs how sad is that. We are already paying twenty five percent taxes and ten percent social security, for what? So, that they can give it to someone that probably doesn't need instead of investing it in the health system?"

Nurse Dorita Pineda, who is employed at the San Ignacio Community Hospital, noted that her colleagues were not protesting against the government, they were only demanding that those in power fulfill the promises made to make the necessary changes.

Nurse Dorita Pineda

"This is not a protest against the government. This is a protest for the government to come and stand with us and show us what they promised. We asked for a change. And, they are there because the people voted for that change and we are just asking them."


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