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Jamaica's health care system is facing a crisis. Some of the island's most highly trained nurses are leaving to take jobs in North America and Europe. The shortage has become so severe that some Jamaican hospitals have postponed complex surgeries. NPR's Jason Beaubien reports.
JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: James Moss-Solomon, the chairman of the University Hospital of the West Indies in Kingston, says the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom are, in his words, poaching Jamaica's most highly trained nurses. And he says these nurses who are being lured abroad were working on wards where it's very hard to replace them.
JAMES MOSS-SOLOMON: Operating theater, intensive care unit, accident and emergency, where nurses are specialized. And this is what the problem is.
BEAUBIEN: Moss-Solomon says the exodus is crippling hospitals across Jamaica. Last week, his hospital was forced to cancel some elective surgeries because they didn't have the staff to handle the procedures. The starting salary for a nurse in Jamaica is less than $8,000 a year. With some specialized training and working overtime, she - and it is almost entirely women - could possibly make up to $20,000 a year on the island. Foreign staffing agencies are offering more than twice that to come to the U.S. or take a job in London.
The head of the Nurses Association of Jamaica, Janet Coore-Farr, says last year, about 200 specialist nurses left the country. Jamaica has roughly 4,500 registered nurses, and about a thousand of them are specialized. Coore-Farr says this hemorrhaging of nursing staff has continued into 2017.
JANET COORE-FARR: We have in one hospital, which is a 500-bed unit, 10 nurses left. And more are leaving. And these nurses are trained in accident and emergency.
BEAUBIEN: Coore-Farr says as more and more nurses leave, the workload gets even heavier for those who stay behind. She says many nurses in Jamaica are now regularly expected to work double shifts, which might make some of them think about taking a job in Phoenix or Toronto.
COORE-FARR: There's no retention strategy for the nurses who are here. And we feel, quite frankly, that nobody cares. So what? If they go, no big thing. But it is - it's a serious problem.
BEAUBIEN: The minister of health, however, says he does recognize what a huge problem the island is facing with the loss of nurses. In the short term, Jamaica is bringing in 25 nurses next month from Cuba to help staff some of their wards. And they have plans to try to recruit nurses from India and the Philippines in what's become a crazy global race to snap up health care professionals. Jason Beaubien, NPR News.
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