Just when I thought all health institutions in Ghana had failed, I stumbled into 37 Military Hospital. A hospital staffed with men and women so dedicated and passionate about their service, that they have made me fall in love with Ghana.
For so long I thought service only existed in the private sector. Private schools and private hospitals, because of the high cost of access, were expected to provide “more and better” service. And even in cases where the service was imaginary, the assumption of private made us think that it was still better than what could be expected from public. But that is pure propaganda. The private sector institutions would like us to believe that they provide the best service, even if that best is mediocre or nonexistent.
I did not realize that health care professionals saw their jobs as service until 37. I’ve studied the social construct of two of Ghana’s top hospitals/clinics. I was under the impression that money got you access to those hospitals, but nothing can buy you the service. This is true for those hospitals. But there is a difference that can be modeled and imitated.
I stumbled into the 37 Military Hospital by accident. I was fortunate to witness service at its best. Although working with limited resources, I witnessed men and women doing their utmost best with what they had for the patients. Wards were clean. Staff were often washing hands or using sanitizer. Hallways were clean and custodians were always cleaning something.
The surgery room looked state of the art. The most important aspect of this hospital is that it’s home to many professionals. And during a surgery, you are in the hands of more than one doctor. There are at least 5 professionals in the room making sure your surgery is successful. And that will make any patient feel more comfortable.
One of the older patients, who had her stomach removed, recounted how comfortable she was. The doctors were reassuring. And because of their faith, she knew she her surgery would be a success.
The 37 establishment is huge. I did not get to visit all wards, but I did spend a week studying the Emergency Room, the Tamakloe Ward and the Dressing Area. And here is what I witnessed. From the custodian, Mr. Mensah, to the nurse volunteers, to the nurses, and up to the doctors, Dr. Yeboah and Dr. Asumanu, everyone understood their mission to serve and did so with compassion and passion.
These men and women are some of the most underappreciated human beings in Ghana, if not in the world. Some haven’t been paid for months. The custodians have to search for water as opposed to having it at their disposal. I saw doctors in the Emergency Room work for a straight 36 hours, nonstop; no complaints, adrenalin must have been too high. I saw doctors welcome in patients with the most gruesome cases with smiles and showing hope. I saw doctors and nurses become family and friends to patients. Relationships were established with each patient, as though they had known each other for years as opposed to hours.
And because of this, patients established lasting relationships with each other. People shared food, medical supplies and water. Visiting families bought food and supplies not just for their members, but for others in the ward. Patients cried at the passing of another patient. A bond was created that strangers now became family members. I saw patients cheer and clap as another returned from surgery. Older patients became aunty, mom and grandma. They counseled that the young ones should eat their food, keep mobile and be of good faith. And what would normally be annoying, such as random people coming in to pray, was enduring. Even if they were not listening, the fact that some random stranger took time to come and pray and break the monotony, was welcoming. These “prayers” would often cheer and do special prayers over news of discharge and other medical victories.
I was particularly stunned by how many Ghanaians are hospitalized due to BP and Diabetes. If what I witnessed in Tamakloe Ward is a norm, then the numbers are alarming. These are both conditions that can be controlled by diet and yet I saw patients in their 40s with leg injuries due to Diabetes. The other major “condition” was due to road accidents; another alarming problem is the state of our roads.
My biggest problem with 37, as with other hospitals, is food. Diabetic patients were given rice for lunch, even though the nurses and nutritionists said otherwise. But rice is on the menu twice a day. It was clear that the caterers, nurses and nutritionists did not work together to create the menu. I know they cannot cater to each individual patient’s needs, which is why families supplemented, but as a health institution, I was expecting better quality food such as vegetables and fruits.
Furthermore, some of the patients take “strong” meds that has to be taken with “heavy” food or at least something nutritious. And yet, breakfast at 37 can include “Lipton tea” with three pieces of bread. The Lipton Tea is not nutritious nor is it strong enough to take meds. It tastes like hot water sprinkled with milk and soaked in sugar. To be fair, the caterer does ask if patients want sugar or not, but no one asks about rice, because that is always on the menu. To top it all off, the light soup is so light; you can see yourself through it. But this is a problem hospitals all over the world face; how to provide nutritious food to the patients. It’s ironic that food would be a problem for health establishments, but that is another blog.
Besides food, the social space constructed by the men and women of the 37 Military Hospital is something that has to be modeled and copied by others in Ghana and around the world. And no, I do not believe it’s because the military is “different.” I know military in other countries, but what I witnessed in Ghana was different. The difference was Ghanaians dedicated to service.