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Nurse insists oxygen shortage caused husband's death

BY HORACE MILLS
Observer writer

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

OCHO RIOS, St Ann — Adamant that her husband died due to a shortage of oxygen at the country's public hospitals in August, a nurse is endorsing a call for the Government to facilitate an independent investigation into the shortage of the life-supporting gas.

“I am totally in agreement with that [probe]; totally in agreement,” Denise Ellis declared on Monday, one day after Opposition Leader Mark Golding renewed his appeal for the investigation to be done.

Minister of Health and Wellness Dr Christopher Tufton had said an independent probe is not necessary, adding that internal systems are already in place to take on the task.

In addition, the island's Chief Medical Officer Dr Jacquiline Bisasor-McKenzie stated that the authorities are investigating the circumstances of the deaths which took place during the “crisis” when hospitals ran low on oxygen between August 27 and 28.

Although no probe has yet been done into the circumstances of her husband Bernard Ellis's death, the nurse said, based on her family's observation and another nurse's comments, she is convinced he was deprived of oxygen.

“To say I am feeling bad is an understatement; to say I am feeling upset is an understatement. It is just difficult knowing that my husband would still be here if the country had had oxygen,” she insisted.

She explained that, on August 22, she was in the United States, where she works, when she was informed that her husband of 37 years was having breathing problems at their home in Exchange district, Ocho Rios.

On that same day, he tested positive for COVID-19 and was admitted to St Ann's Bay Regional Hospital, Ellis recalled.

She stated that her husband's oxygen, which was low at the time he started feeling ill, had gone back up to acceptable levels. That sign of progress fuelled the family's hope.

Ellis said her husband was in high spirits up to August 28 when they last spoke. “He said to me, 'I will see you, honey,' ” she recalled.

She expressed surprise that by the following morning she was informed that her partner's oxygen level had fallen dramatically to 26 per cent.

“His lungs couldn't come back from 26 per cent to 90 to be alive,” she lamented. “They took him off the oxygen the [Saturday] night; that's what a nurse told us. They took him off the oxygen, thinking that he was doing too good. They should have left the oxygen on him.”

Ellis added that if the hospital had told the family that there was a shortage of oxygen they would have taken their supply to the medical facility for her husband to use, as her husband had oxygen at home a few miles away from the hospital.

“By the time we ran for our oxygen at home it was too late… My brother and sister, we [all] work in the medical field and I have oxygen at home. When they called us, it was too late,” added Ellis, whose husband died on August 29.

She stated that she was not aware of her spouse having any underlying illness, and she never imagined losing him to COVID-19.

“It didn't cross my mind... He didn't even know that he had COVID-19 until when the breathing part started to affect him and they called me,” she added. “My husband was one of the kindest, most decent human beings I have ever seen, and everybody around is saying they will never get back another Bernard Ellis.”

Up to the time of his death Ellis was employed as a driver supervisor at Jamaica Public Service Company Limited in St Ann. He worked there for 22 years.

His wife told the Observer that, had he not died, he would have relocated to the United States to live with her. He got his US citizenship while he was in hospital, his wife disclosed.

“That is one thing that is bothering me, and I don't know if I can get over it to know that in a couple of days he wouldn't be [in Jamaica]. When the embassy called him, he was in the hospital,” said Ellis, who returned to her native land this week to get ready to bury her husband on October 21.