A group of health workers comprising volunteer nurses, doctors and pharmacists working at the CACOVID isolation centre in Mainland Hospital, Yaba, has called on the Lagos state government to pay their  two-months COVID-19 allowances.

While some of them are still working at the Mainland Hospital, Yaba, which hosts one of the few remaining COVID-19 treatment centres in the state, others have been decommissioned after the expiration of their three-month engagement period.

They express concerns that they had resigned from the private facilities where they were working to enable them put in their best at the isolation centre, but they are now being owed two months of unpaid special allowances that had been due them.

Concerning the special allowances, they say, doctors were promised N700,000 for the three months, while nurses expected to receive about N480,000.

The government had reneged on the promise, while the allowances paid to those who were fortunate to have been settled had also been subjected to what the workers described as “mind-boggling” deductions of between N70,000 and N100,000, allegedly without any explanation from the government.

This is even as the state Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Gbenga Omotoso, promised to raise the matter with the Health Commissioner, Prof. Akin Abayomi, noting that the state government was presently overwhelmed.

The frontline health workers said despite working in a “frustrating and unhealthy work environment” that exposed them to COVID-19, their welfare was not taken into consideration.

One of the doctors who spoke to PUNCH HealthWise on the condition of anonymity explained that, as part of the Coalition Against COVID-19 policy, volunteer health workers are to be recruited every three months, after which new batches would be brought in to replace the old ones.

“As of August 1, about 30 nurses and 16 doctors had been recruited. Although some were decommissioned midway the three-month duration, the rest of us continued working,” the source said.

He noted that while doctors were expected to be paid N700,000 for the three months, nurses expected to receive about N480,000.

Arbitrary deduction of allowances

The young medic disclosed that many of the health workers had observed a trend where between N60,000 and N100,000 were deducted from their monthly pay, without explanation from the management.

“For instance, a nurse will receive the complete pay of N480,000 the first month. Next, it will be reduced to N350,000 and the next, N260,000. It just keeps reducing by about N100,000, yet nobody asks question or gets an explanation.

“I don’t think the doctors are affected by the trend because our allowances are paid in full.

“I really don’t understand why the nurses’ own were arbitrarily deducted. The thing is that, once those in charge take out what they wanted to deduct, they will spread the rest among the volunteer nurses.

“We cannot really say, for sure, if the N100,000 being deducted was for accommodation as done with the previous set of volunteers. We (the new set of volunteer health workers) were not that privileged to be given accommodation, which was stopped at the end of July,” he said.

Poor meals for health workers

The source also alleged that the two meals per day arrangement put in place for health workers, describing the food as an insult to people attending to COVID-19 patients and struggling not to get infected in the process.

“I cannot properly describe it as a meal because what they serve us can better be described as ‘leftovers’ from the ration that are served to COVID-19 patients. For crying out loud, I think we deserve more.

“Even if we cannot be compensated in other ways, let them just pay us our August and September allowances, please,” he appealed.

A nurse who craved anonymity also decried the situation.

“The government has been unfair to the current set of volunteers. Some of us come from as far as Sangotedo and Ikorodu. Imagine the money we expend on transport daily, with the attendant dangers to life and limbs,” she said.

She corroborated the earlier claim of the young medic that there was no provision for hotel or accommodation for health workers at the infectious disease clinic.

The nursing officer said it was bad enough to experience subtle stigmatisation from friends and relatives who know they work in isolation centre, describing their experience as a “neglect by an insensitive employer.”

“As things stand, we are already exposed to COVID-19. The majority of us are positive and have been enduring stigmatisation for a while from loved ones who know we work in Lagos State isolation centre.

“Even if we cannot be compensated for all our efforts at combating COVID-19, don’t we deserve to be paid our two-month allowances before they decommission us?” she said.

Not the first time

This was not the first time aggrieved health workers in various isolation centres in Lagos will be complaining about unpaid remuneration.

Last April 1, doctors that were recruited for patient care at the Mainland Hospital, Yaba, had petitioned the Medical Guild and threatened to go on strike due to “neglect, unpaid allowances and absence of life insurance.”

Many of them complained that they were paid only N50,000 as allowance since February 27 when Nigeria’s COVID-19 index case was admitted at the facility. The government had promised them a higher weekly allowance, they said.

They also complained about not having a “befitting call room” to rest after working long, gruelling shifts taking care of “critically ill COVID-19 patients.

“They should remember that poor health workers like us at the frontline of COVID-19 are yet to be paid a dime since we were recruited,” one of them said.

Another nurse at the facility told our correspondent that she was one of the few health workers redeployed to Yaba centre from other isolation centres that were recently shut down.

She noted that, from the look of things, Lagos frontline workers “were the least on the state government’s list of priorities.”

“At Landmark isolation centre where I last worked, things were not like this. They gave us accommodation and on the 28th day of every month, we received our allowances.

“We even enjoyed three square meals daily. But the food they give us here is not different from leftovers.

“We are served from what was left of patients’ food. The annoying part of it is that nobody is addressing us concerning who is sitting on our money or what went wrong.

“All we hear from the coordinator every time is, ‘They will pay, they will pay.’

“Up till now, we are still hoping, praying and expecting that they will still pay since some of us have been decommissioned.

No hygienist

“The fact that they brought us here without provision for decontamination after exposure to the virus is another source for worry,” she said.

Talking about decontamination, the health workers alleged that there was no hygienist on hand to decontaminate their PPEs before they could take them off after a day’s job which, they said, was the normal process in infectious disease treatment.

Although the nurse noted that some staff of Mainland Hospital were also being owed, they received their salaries while waiting for their allowances.

“They cannot complain much because they still receive salary. We don’t have such privilege. Many of us left the private practice where we were working because we wanted to make a difference.

Decommissioned without pay

“As things stand, many of us have been decommissioned and told not to come again. But how can you decommission people you have not paid? What about our allowances?” she lamented.

Let the health workers calm down —Information commissioner

When contacted, Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Gbenga Omotoso, said, presently, the state government was overwhelmed

“I don’t know what to say. We all know what is happening in Lagos at the moment. I haven’t even read reports from any newspaper since yesterday.”

Referring to the health workers’ allegation of non-payment of their allowances as promised by the Lagos State Government, Omotoso said, “It has never happened before.”

“I hope you know that going to meet the governor at this critical moment is out of it. But I will find out from the commissioner of health. Let the health workers calm down” he added.

 

Source: originally published by the Nigerian punch