UCTH’s place in Cross River’s COVID-19 tale

The efforts of the management of the University of Calabar Teaching Hospital (UCTH) in assisting the Cross River State government to achieve proper response to the COVID-19 pandemic received a commendation from a seven-man team from the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).

Commissioner for Health Dr. Betta Edu said the state government and the UCTH management in January drew out a plan to combat COVID-19.

“We have worked closely with the management of UCTH as early as in January drawing out response approach to what is now a global pandemic. They brought out the expertise we needed. They made available the Isolation centre for proper setup. Cross River State Government has been supporting in our own little way.

“We must thank the UCTH management because all the manpower which started the training process for health workers in the state came from the hospital. The Chief Medical Director (CMD) Prof. Ikpeme Asanye Ikpeme was very magnanimous allowing his capable staff to work hand in hand with us. He did not hesitate at any point in time in giving the needed permission for any staff that had to work with us in training the workforce we have been able to raise in response and preparedness to COVID-19 in Cross River State.

“Beyond these, there is also support like using venues within the hospital and facilitating training. They come to our isolation centre to help in setting up and drawing up protocols. We commend the UCTH and the state government is very grateful for that. We will continue to work together and the state government will continue to support the UCTH in whichever way that is necessary within our capability. First, it is our own to serve our people before anyone else, as such we owe them that support as a government,” Edu said.

The hospital, Prof. Ikpeme said, has the ability to conduct test for COVID-19 case if the needed software upgrade and machine cartridges are given to them by the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).

His words: “We are prepared. We have a trained team, we have Isolation Centre, we have PPEs; we got facilities on the ground. We can support the cardiorespiratory system; we can support the renal system. Our dialysis is working, so we are prepared.

“We told the team what we have. We have the Gyn-expert machine and all that is needed is to upgrade and provide cartridges. They know about that and they will take the message back. They have also seen our isolation centre. It’s a 4-bed centre that can easily be overwhelmed if case break. We need to expand the centre and have a place for staff to stay.”

Ikpeme added that most of the seven cases that turned out negative were sent from the UCTH to the NCDC.

The UCTH that now inspires confidence was as at April last year in distress. A visit to the hospital prior to April 16, 2019, depicted a hospital in deep distress. The environment was unkempt; utility services such as water and electricity supply was far-fetched. X-ray machines in the hospital were non-functional, services were outsourced to private establishments connected to top officials. The operation theatres and laboratory services were nothing to write home about. Drug supplies and pharmaceutical services were in a terrible state.

When Prof. Ikpeme took over as the 8th CEO of the hospital, he had full knowledge of the challenges before him and seemed ready to hit the ground running,

He called his management team and eventually the staff community and made a declaration saying: “Come with me on this journey. It will be tasking but exciting. There may yet be obstacles but we will overcome them. Above all, He (God) who called us has already equipped us.”

He went on: “There are those who believe we are down and cannot rise again. We must prove them wrong. We will do so by working hard, reporting early to work & sitting down to actually work, by eschewing corrupt practices, insisting that our environment is clean and tidy, leaving only at the close of work and generally being disciplined, committed and focused in the discharge of our duties.

“We must respect each other and be professional in our dealings. We must respect the boundaries of our professionalism and co-operate to make each profession grow. To paraphrase Dr James Ene Henshaw, that great medical poet now gone beyond, ‘This is our chance’. The patient is our primary concern. We must be courteous, humane, and empathetic in dealing with him or her. He or she must henceforth leave UCTH with a sense of satisfaction and be our advertiser in the larger community”.

He also appealed to the staff and stakeholders not to set booby traps for officeholders and not to sabotage the efforts of the new administration in any way.

One year after, has he and his management team lived up to his promises? The majority answer in the affirmative. But the CMD says “It is work in progress”.

There are many areas of intervention and notable differences, evident in the hospital. The clean and green environment is part of the aesthetic and Sanitation policy of Management. The Dental Clinic has been completely overhauled. The Ante-natal and Gynaecology clinic has been completely made over. So is the labour ward, completely restructured and renovated, and work is ongoing to create ten en-suite labour suite and two obstetric theatres. The hospital now has CCTV cover in some strategic places and departments, with plans for a hospital-wide expansion.

To ensure that patients and visitors are properly guided, there is a manned SERVICOM DESK at the entrance of the Hospital which is available for patients and visitors to make inquiries. The SERVICOM Unit has also recently been re-jigged for further efficiency. Pay points have been increased to ten and a central Phlebotomy unit has been set up to provide phlebotomy services for out-patients. Power supply and water supply have improved and is enjoyed 24 hours in strategic departments.

Efforts to clean up the hospital and create an aesthetically pleasing environment have received commendation by different visiting bodies such as FHI 360, Medical & Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN) and the accreditation team of the faculty of Obstetrics and Gynaecology of the West African College of Surgeons.

Critical improvement in UCTH is also evident in the Dialysis unit which has been completely renovated and refurbished to cater for infective and non-infective cases; the Theatre, the Intensive Care Unit, Radiology, Laboratory Departments, Endoscopy, Blood Bank and Pharmacy among others.

Before the outbreak of Coronavirus across the globe, the management had concluded arrangement with the American-based VOOM Foundation to conduct the first open-heart surgery in the hospital this month. The arrangement still subsists and a new date will be set after the Coronavirus pandemic has been contained.

UCTH with no doubts have experienced dramatic improvement in many areas in the last one year; there is power supply with 24 hours power in critical areas such as the Theatres, ICU, Radiology, Casualty wards and improvements in the water supply which is more stable than prior to April 2019.

The power supply problem in the hospital had become endemic before the Prof. Ikpeme-led management team took over. Upon assumption of office, abandoned power generating plants in the hospital, one 500 KVA and another 515KVA were put back to functionality and new 500KVA generator was acquired to boost the alternative power source of the Hospital.

In addition, efforts are continuing to engage the Port Harcourt Electricity Distribution Company for settlement of the huge debt left behind. The Drug Revolving Fund Account (DRF) is now fully functional.

Security is not left out. The Hospital has enhanced lighting points and has installed CCTV cameras in strategic points to aid surveillance. Engagement with security agencies has helped beef-up security in the establishment.

In the area of medical research and advancement, Prof. Ikpeme has revealed that the UCTH is currently working to develop and build upon the achievements of the hospital institute for tropical research through collaboration with the United States (US) Military to research on Malaria and Drug-resistant in the Tropics. “Both Clinical and field research is going on,” the CMD noted.

Asked for a message to the public going further, he said: “We recognise the state of the hospital in time past; we are a work in progress, striving very hard to meet the demands of our clients. We understand that we are the biggest health provider in Cross River State and we are thankful to the public for their confidence in our system in the last 12 months. We urge them to return; we have the best hands, the best brains, we have the biggest concentration of excellently trained manpower. We are creating environments with quality equipment that will ensure that we have excellent health care service delivered to them. I want to state that UCTH is back and back very strongly; we are here and we will be getting better. We are rising from the ashes.”

The head of the department of SERVICOM in the hospital, Mr. Obo Obo, listed thirty-eight areas that have received commendable attention and intervention in UCTH in the last one year.

Edu said: “I want to join my voice to that of the CMD who is an exceptional leader. He has brought a lot of change to this hospital. I say without equivocation since he came in, it has been a different hospital. I stay and the state and I know what has been going on and I can give the history of the hospital up until today. He has brought a lot of change, new spirit, new everything to this place and we believe that he will do more for the facility and the hospital as a whole. We will continue to support him as much as we can and we are confident of his support to us as well where needed.

“We have a lot of humans resources in the UCTH that can be deployed to support lives, I think it is time for the Federal Government to massively invest in the University of Calabar Teaching Hospital. We can expend the Isolation centre on the hospital premises. There is a lot of space in front of it. We were going to do a kind of makeshift tent there before we were told by the NCDC that it is preferable to have a full building rather than having a tent and that is why we had to relocate to Adiabo.

“We plead that more be done for the hospital, we believe whatever is done for them is done for Cross Riveriens, it’s done for Cross River State and the Governor of Cross River State will be very appreciative.”