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Days after reports of overcrowding, staff shortage, problems with air conditioners and the deaths of several babies, the executive director of the University Pediatric Hospital, Ernesto Santiago Zayas, resigned last Friday.

Since Tuesday, the executive director of the Bayamón Regional Hospital, Neysha Carmona Iglesias was appointed interim director of the Pediatric Hospital.

 "I am aware that it is a challenge, but we come from (having done) a hard work in (the Regional Hospital of) Bayamón," Carmona Iglesias told El Nuevo Día yesterday in her first public statement since she was appointed.

 The official, who heads the Bayamón Regional Hospital since April 2017, spoke with this newspaper along with the Secretary of Health, Rafael Rodríguez Mercado, and Undersecretary Concepción Quiñones de Longo.

"I know it's an extremely difficult time and there are many challenges, but, more than my academic background, I bring my youthfulness," said the young woman who has a Bachelor of Science degree (2009) from the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) and who also has two master's degrees , one in Public Health (2012) and another in Health Services Administration (2014), both from the UPR Medical Sciences Campus.

After meeting with the staff of the Pediatric Hospital on Tuesday and touring its facilities, Carmona Iglesias listed some priority areas, including the repair of air conditioners and nine of twelve elevators damaged since Hurricane Maria in September 2017.

 They denied bacteria outbreak

Carmona Iglesias appointment is one of the several actions that the Department of Health is taking after claims of deaths due to bacterial outbreaks and cross-contamination.

"I decided to take over the hospital and make radical changes. We have to face the people, let them know that their children are safe and they will receive quality treatment there," said Rodríguez Mercado.

On the deaths of premature babies, allegedly after being infected with bacteria in the hospital, the official was emphatic in denying it. He referred particularly to three deaths, although he stressed that only one of these babies tested positive for Klebsiella Pneumoniae. He died on November 5, while the other two died on October 8 and November 9. Both tested negative for bacteria, said the neurosurgeon.

 He indicated that, at the request of Governor Ricardo Rosselló, an investigation was conducted on what happened and the current situation of the hospital. About the three babies that died, the doctor mentioned that they were born after 24 to 25 weeks of gestation with a critical health scenario including internal bleeding, respiratory problems and kidney failure, among other complications, according to the doctor.

"The survival expectancy of these premature and complicated babies is low,  20 percent," said Quiñones de Longo, who pointed out that many of these babies spend months in the Intensive Care Unit, but not all survive.

Even so, Rodríguez Mercado highlighted that the mortality rate of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) of the Pediatric Hospital has been reduced in the last three years. In 2015 it was 13.9 percent, went down to 13.7 percent in 2016 and reached 11.2 percent in 2017. This year, until last month, the rate was 8 percent. It was reported that the national average is 10.9 percent.

As for the NICU, the doctor mentioned that the south wing reopened last week after being closed for more than a year due to the damage caused by the hurricane, particularly to the air conditioning system.

Quiñones de Longo explained that patients in this area of the NICU, who had to be moved to the third floor, were placed in regular rooms, with spaces that are smaller than those of the NICU. Hence, she said, some parents report overcrowding, although the pediatrician warned that despite the fact that they were smaller spaces, the area complied with medical parameters and regulations.

Repairs 

As part of the strict audit that the Health Department will conduct on the Pediatric Hospital, Rodríguez Mercado announced that he appointed an engineer from the agency to supervise an engineer working at the Pediatric Hospital. 

He added that the hospital has an insurance policy that has only paid $ 11,000 and that they are waiting for a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) allocation that was originally going to be $ 900,000, but was later reduced to $ 400,000. According to the doctor, only the repair of the elevators amounts to $ 1.2 million, while auxiliary repairs are estimated at $ 600,000.

 "I visited the hospital on October 25 with my staff and an engineer and we have already identified $ 170,000 (from the Health budget) to put it to work," he said.

He stressed that the Pediatric Hospital has its accreditations up to date and that next year there will be an inspection of the Joint Commission.

Quiñones de Longo said that it is necessary to have more staff, particularly nurses. She recalled that a request had already been made to the Office of Management and Budget for 35 nursing positions before the hurricane. She added that the hiring of seven nurses for the NICU area has already been approved, three of which will start working today.


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