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North Central Regional Health Authority CEO Davlin Thomas.

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A rumour that hospitalised COVID-19 patients were prohibited from using their cellphones has been rubbished by four of the country’s Regional Health Authorities (RHAs).

The concern was brought to the attention of the Guardian Media newsroom by citizens inquiring if there was any truth, but the rumour was shut down by all RHA heads who described the rumour as pure mischief.

In a telephone interview with Davlin Thomas, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the North Central Regional Health Authority (NCRHA), he was the first to dismiss the hearsay saying, “That’s not the policy of the NCRHA COVID-19 facilities; in fact, we’ve also made available ‘patient liaisons’ who communicate with families about their patients.”

He said in the instances where a patient was very ill, these “patient liaisons” were especially used to interact with families on the patient’s behalf.

When contacted, acting Medical Chief of Staff at the Scarborough General Hospital, Dr Victor Wheeler, said via a WhatsApp response, “That information is incorrect! In fact, that is how the doctors and nurses communicate with them (patients) before going inside to treat them.”

His colleague, Ronald Tsoi-a-Fatt, CEO of the Eastern Regional Health Authority, said also via WhatsApp that he was not aware of any such restriction.

At the South-West RHA, corporate communications manager Kevon Gervais told Guardian Media via a WhatsApp response, “At C-19 facilities, SWRHA does not prohibit patient’s use of mobile devices to communicate with loved ones. In fact, we generally encourage and facilitate our valued patients in adopting meaningful ways to be in regular updates with family and friends.”

Gervais said, however, the use of video conferencing or chatting was not acceptable as personal use was balanced against other patients’ privacy and confidentiality.

While the rumour may have turned out not to be true, Guardian Media spoke with the secretary of the Association of Psychiatrists of Trinidad and Tobago Dr Varma Deyalsingh about the importance of communication regarding a COVID patient’s mental health.

Deyalsingh said isolation could have negative effects on the health of patients creating additional problems. He said support and encouragement by family members were imperative and contact with relatives who could pray, speak and comfort their loved ones should be allowed.

“Having phones could allow persons to keep themselves occupied in religious channels, music, meditation apps, or even research on the illness,” said Deyalsingh.