Southern Regional Health Authority
The business of compassion
Business View Caribbean interviews representatives of Jamaica’s Southern Regional Health Authority, as part of our focus on healthcare in the Caribbean.
As the topic of healthcare issues and the ongoing debates surrounding how countries choose to handle the medical challenges of its citizens, the Caribbean Region has been relentless in its proactive approach to serve, nurture, and inform the inhabitants of these countries. Through much dialogue, strategic planning, and the trials and tribulations of what has been witnessed as effective leadership, it has been accepted that a healthy population is a must for the sustainable development of a country. One such country is the Commonwealth of Jamaica.
With a population of almost three million residents, the social logistics of providing sound health and medical services for the entire country is a job suited only for a goal-driven system rooted in patience and guided by the steady hand of its governing body. That challenge was answered in 1997, when the National Health Service Act shifted the management of the delivery of health services from the central government and the Ministry of Health to four semi-autonomous bodies, the Regional Health Authorities – one of which is the Southern Regional Health Authority. These four authorities were charged with the purpose and task of operating and managing health services within their specific geographical regions.
The Southern Regional Health Authority (SRHA) has a vast responsibility for the delivery of health care services to the 600,000 residents of Clarendon, Manchester, and St. Elizabeth parishes. It provides management for the 76 health centers and clinics of the region, while also managing six hospitals, over 600 beds, and approximately 3,000 employees. The authority is overseen by a Board of Directors comprised of 14 members appointed by the Ministry of Health; its Chief Executive Officer is the Regional Director (RD), who reports directly to the Chairman of the Board.
Healthcare in Jamaica is free to all citizens and legal residents at government hospitals and clinics. While there is some private health insurance that some citizens opt to pay for, it only accounts for less than one percent of the country’s overall healthcare budget.
Recently, Business View Caribbean spoke with the SRHA’s Regional Director, Michael Bent, to obtain some information about the Authority and its day-to-day operations. Also included in the discussion were Regional Technical Director, Dr. Vitillius Holder, Director of Finance, Andrew Sinclair, Human Resources Director, Nicolette Thomas-Edwards, Director of Management Information Systems, Rohan Smith, Procurement Manager, Stacey-Ann Henry Edwards, Director of Operations and Maintenance, Mrs. Herschel Ismail, and Administrations Manager, Janet Sloley.
According to Bent, the most serious health concerns in Jamaica, today, are non-communicable diseases (NDCs). “Those are the ones most troubling to us right now,” he explains. “There are a lot of social lifestyle and behaviors that are leading to these illnesses. However, in recent times, for about the last two or so years, there have been strategic and concentrated efforts to tackle non-communicable diseases. We have launched an initiative about a year or so ago called ‘Jamaica Moves.’ This is a mission to get the population active in terms of exercise, to get people moving, and to make some lifestyle changes in terms of their diet and their day to day functions.”
The healthcare sector in the Caribbean has always been plagued by complaints of long hospital wait times, curt and uncaring treatment by the hospital/clinic staff and medical teams, the overall lack of interest in providing basic healthcare information for the visitor, and the lack of procedures and services along with the technology and equipment to provide those procedures. It is complaints like these that have caused the Southern Health Regional Authority to be relentless in its attempts to create a better medical experience for its citizens, especially as its budget is tight and the needs, plenty.
In recent years the SHRA has implemented more technology and added many new services and medical procedures, including, but not limited to: extensive dialysis services, ENT (ear nose and throat) doctors and services, oncology, pharmacy, orthopedics, urology, and physiotherapy. It has also optimized and upgraded its technology to perform strategic arthroscopic surgeries in four of its hospitals.
However, technology, procedures, and facilities, are just part of the improvement experience. Bent and his team express the importance of excellent customer service to all of those visiting the clinics and hospitals of the region – a priority that the Authority has accelerated over time in order to ensure that Jamaicans are treated with highest quality of care possible. Thus, SHRA is soon to unveil the acronym C.A.R.E (Compassionate, Accountability, Respect, and Efficient) to reflect its values and customer service commitment to the citizens of Jamaica.
“We believe in efficiency, and efficiency not in just terms of our daily operations, but also on a macro level, so that one can be registered and admitted into the hospital, and have all of their needs addressed in the shortest amount of time possible, so that they are able to receive care and get on with their lives without much of their time being wasted,” says Bent. “We realized that waiting time is an issue, and one of the least appreciated elements of visiting the hospital. This is why we have recently upgraded our technology to assist in the process of reducing the amount of time getting registered into the hospital, with the use of our current Electronic Patient Administration (EPA) system.”
Bent says that the use of this system has cut the time of registering into the hospital from seven minutes down to two minutes. This preservation, although an extremely efficient usage of time on the part of the hospital and its staff, was made primarily to assist in getting the visitor registered faster and furthering the commitment to customer service by allocating staff and services that expediently addressed their needs with a compassionate regard for their time and concerns.
“We have a workforce that is qualified, dedicated, committed, and one that goes the extra mile,” adds Human Resources Director, Mrs. Nicolette Thomas-Edwards. “We have employees that are quite innovative, and they stick to the task. And so, it is very important to note that the staff force is a commendable one, here at the Southern Regional Health Authority.
Bent agrees: “We have a team that is committed to lifting healthcare standards to the highest levels. And we want to always attract personnel of capable and relevant professionals that are seeking to meet the emerging needs of healthcare delivery.” Andrew Sinclair, Director of Finance, adds what he feels is the key to success within the organization “I hope I’m not being too forward, but I can’t help but mention that the reason that we have achieved the successes that we are experiencing are a direct reflection of the leadership that has been provided here at the SHRA by the Regional Director. The contribution that the Regional Director has made cannot be understated – insuring that high standards are achieved and that persons are held accountable to attain the high standards that he has put forward.”
“We want to be known as an organization that embraces change, and that we value the worth and opinions of our team,” says Bent, in response. But perhaps most importantly, the professionals of the SRHA care deeply about the people they serve. “We have compassion,” he asserts, in conclusion, “and we will use compassion when working to meet the needs of the public.”
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AT A GLANCE
WHO: The Southern Regional Health Authority
WHAT: One of Jamaica’s four regional health authorities
WHERE: Mandeville, Jamaica
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