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Clarendon working on plan to vaccinate homeless, mentally ill

Inside The Municipalities

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

MAY PEN, Clarendon — The Clarendon Municipal Corporation (CMC) is working alongside the parish's health department to devise a strategy to get the homeless and mentally ill vaccinated.

The corporation's CEO Rowhan Blake made the disclosure while responding to a question from Councillor Uriah Mitchell (Jamaica Labour Party, Rock River Division) during last Thursday's monthly meeting of the CMC as to what provisions, if any, were being made for those two groups to be inoculated against the novel coronavirus.

Blake said they were working in conjunction with the inspector of poor.

“We have started data collection because we need to have a precise figure so we will be able to plan properly. We are having some challenges which have delayed the process but we expect that in short order those persons will be vaccinated,” he explained.

Acting assistant medical officer of health Dr Kathleen Woods added that the health department is working on a strategy but was unable to say when that exercise will get off the ground.

“I know there is a strategy being worked on but with the burden of trying to operate all these vaccination sites it all came down to time and the allotment of human resources, which we are a little short on at the moment,” said Dr Woods.

Councillor Scean Barnswell (People's National Party, Hayes Division) however cautioned against forcing individuals to take the vaccine.

“I am pro-choice at the moment and that is because the vaccine is still a trial use. It makes no sense to force persons to take the vaccine, because there are individuals who may have rare reactions to these vaccines. I believe that since the adverse reactions are rare, the Government of Jamaica could take on the responsibility for those persons who would experience the rare adverse impact. Then we would have more people taking it,” he suggested.

He is of the view that the local health department should have flexibility to make decisions on the spot in their respective locales.

“As is, they have to be waiting on central [Government] to tell them what needs to be done and as a result there is a lot of confusion, bungling and the logistics are not being worked out accordingly… If we don't change the strategy we will not get there and get our lives back together. To force persons to take the vaccine cannot be the way out; that cannot be the way to get persons to comply and we need to realise and remember the kind of mentality that Jamaicans have. The more you push us the more there will be resistance,” he warned.

Turning his attention to another area of concern, the former mayor noted that there is nothing in the monthly health report which speaks to the mental issues affecting residents of the parish.

“When I was sitting in a different chair from where I am now we used to have the mental health unit meet with us every month and give us updates. But I'm not sure what is happening with that unit now,” Barnswell lamented.

“I raise the issue because I lost a colleague who was mentally ill and there was little to no treatment or place for him to go and, unfortunately, he burnt down his family home and killed himself in the fire. He was a great footballer from Clarendon College. I have learned that many times these persons we see on the road, it's not because they take drugs why they are on the street but it can be other factors that may be stress-related or they made bad decisions that knock them off their rockers and cause them to end up on the streets,” he said.

Barnswell thus enquired what plans were in place to deal with mental issues in the parish.

“Since COVID, depression has also been a contributing factor to the persons suffering from mental illness… with the loss of jobs, the no-movement, the confusion and factors that are now affecting individuals,” he noted.

Dr Woods agreed that mental health challenges have taken a toll.

“It's going to be a little hard for us to assess how bad it's affecting persons on the ground. What we have done so far with the chronic disease management programmes, we have made changes to a certain tool that we use. We try to routinely screen our patients coming in, [though] not on every visit because the patient load tends to increase at times,” she said.

“Then we see who may need psychotherapy or counselling or if they need to be referred to the psychologist or psychiatrist. Several officers are trained to start administering medication if that is necessary,” added Dr Woods.

Regarding depression in COVID-19 patients, Dr Woods noted that those who have recovered are still routinely assessed 21 days after recovery or quarantine.