Prof. Darlington Obaseki
Prof. Darlington Obaseki is the Chief Medical Director of the University of Benin Teaching Hospital (UBTH). Obaseki, who assumed office as CMD six months ago, celebrated his 50th birthday last weekend. The pathologist, in this interview, says it is no big deal having to attend to those who dead instead of patients who are alive.
How do you feel at 50?
I don’t really feel 50. I feel I am still in my early 40s. But looking at the last 50 years, it has been loaded and I thank God for the gift of family and life.
You are from the notable Obaseki family of Benin Kingdom. Does that name inspire you in any way?
I carry a name that is known for exemplary service. There is no Obaseki that held public service that has not delivered and that is a big challenge for me. I carry that name with pride and I am determined to do better than my predecessors and other Obasekis like the late Justice Otutu Obaseki, Dr Gaius Obaseki, a former GMD of the NNPC, and Governor Godwin Obaseki.
You are a pathologist. Why did you choose to deal with dead people?
It is a job I really enjoy doing. Being a pathologist is easy for me, dealing with dead people is better than dealing with people who are alive. Why, because they are dead. Before I became a pathologist, I practiced clinical medicine and practicing clinical medicine is far more difficult. As a doctor, you are at the fore front of looking after patients. That is one of the reasons I left clinical medicine and went into diagnostic medicine because it drains you.
When you are treating a patient, at times, you get close to the patient; then, suddenly, one night when you are on call or you are treating the patient and the patient dies. That transition between life and death is what gets to you, that is far more difficult to deal with than dealing with dead people. Most of the dead people I deal with, I don’t know them.
Yes, empathy is there but they don’t hit me as much as seeing life taken out of somebody you have been dealing with. And as a clinician, that is what you experience every day. So I think it is much easier for me to deal with dead people. For example, if you are treating a cancer patient, you become very close and one day he has a problem and you watch the person die and you cannot do anything about it; it is the worst experience anyone can have.
As a medical student, I was quite young; the first time we did anatomy; that was the first time of seeing a corpse in my life. But we were many in class, so you will not show it that you were scared. Because you will see girls in your class, some of them were not even scared; so it was scary initially but you have to get used to it.
Is there any other profession you would have loved to be in outside of medicine?
I really did not want to read medicine. I wanted to be an engineer when I was filling my admission form but my dad told me to read medicine. But with the experience I have, practicing medicine is tough, the material reward is not that commensurate but it is very satisfying. When you save a patient’s life, you cannot quantify the joy.
It is just like when you saved a baby that was not breathing after birth and you are battling to save the child and, suddenly, the child breaths, you will be very happy. But as a doctor you have to make a lot of sacrifices for your family, because, most times, you will not have time to socialize with them or your friends. While others are enjoying, you will be working. However, I am a pathologist now, a diagnostician. I took pathology like a fish in the water; that I cannot not give up for anything. As a pathologist, which is a special sub sector of medicine, it is my calling. I am naturally born to do this and I will not give it up for another job.
How has it been as CMD of UBTH, the second biggest teaching hospital in Nigeria?
I will say it is tougher than I expected because being the second biggest hospital in Nigeria, you have a lot of work to do. But I have been in management for three and a half years before now; so it is just for me to set my agenda which we have succeeded in doing now and try to correct some of the deficiencies we noticed immediately. Luckily, the system is stabilizing and, in this 2018, we are expecting to roll out big plans for the hospital.
Before now, there were incessant strike actions in the teaching hospital. What magic did you do to stop it?
When we came on board, we noticed there was general despondency and demoralized workforce in the UBTH. We now realized that our first point of action was to lift the morale of the workers. We spoke to them, assured them that all what is due to them would be given to them. And we have demonstrated this in the past five, six months that we came on board. We have shown that we care and you can see them doing great job now.
My dream is that in the next four years of my tenure, there will not be a single local strike and we are going to actualize that. I actually met a very fragile system. When I say fragile, I mean, yes, the system was functional but fragile because, when one generator breaks down, the entire system goes off.
If one CT scan breaks down, people go out to do it outside. So we agreed that a hospital should not work that way, and we decided that we must have backup to ensure that our system does not break down. We got a second generator to make the system more stable and that is one of the major problems we inherited. But you should know that we just came out of recession and it really affected the health sector.
How are you coping with reports that patients are unable to pay hospital bills?
It is really bad. It is a reflection of the economic situation in the country. We did a lot of waivers for patients; you cannot stop them from going home. As of December 2017, we gave a waiver of about N35million for patients who could not pay their bills. And that is a lot of money that we didn’t have. But we considered that as part of our contribution to the well-being of the society, helping the needy because, honestly, it is a big problem. A lot of Nigerians can no longer afford hospital bills but we are trying to find a way to cope with it.
Detention of patients
That is not really the situation. Since I came on board, I have not heard any complaint of such. But what I know is that we have a medical social service department that has to actually investigate issues like that to ascertain whether the person can actually pay or not because, sometimes, people pretend. So this department goes to the houses of such people to ascertain whether they are actually indigent as they claim. It is after verifying that we can now say, ’okay, you can leave’. So it is not really detention because we will fold up if we continue to act like ‘Father Christmas’. So after investigating, we allow the person to go and, if he or she cannot pay, we now write off the bill.
But why is it that Nigerians still run abroad to get medical attention when we have so many teaching hospitals in the country?
Let us be blunt on this, we don’t have the wherewithal to treat some of the conditions that people fly abroad for. But I am aware that the Federal Government is doing its best to correct these problems. These are age long problems that will take time to solve. The problems were not created by the Buhari administration but by previous administrations starting from the military. When we cannot even guarantee regular power in our hospitals, it is a big problem.
But as an administration one of our cardinal objectives is to find internal solution to these problems so as to complement what the Federal Government is doing. Power is one of our strategic objectives within the next four years. We want to also stem the tide of outward medical tourism to make it an inward medical tourism. We want to make UBTH a centre of inward medical tourism in Nigeria and we have a four-year strategic plan to actualize that.
We are looking at, for example, producing an independent power supply, going upgrade so that we can stabilize our power supply. We cannot even talk of doing certain things in the hospital without constant power.
For example, if you want to do a stem cell transplant, we need 24 hours power to keep the room bacteria free; in fact a generator is not even good enough. So if you cannot guarantee steady power, you cannot embark on such transplant. So we are putting structures in place so that in the next two, three years, people will stop going abroad because we must have put some of these things in place.
We have the manpower already but we just don’t have the facilities in place to ensure that those who go abroad for medication now come to us. We actually have six strategic plans we want to focus on this year.
We are going to launch the plans this January; it is a four-year strategic plan. First of all we are trying to redefine our vision and mission which is that we want to be the leading provider of quality health care solution in West Africa; we want to improve our patient’s health by integrating research. We have also identified four core values: One, we value life; two, we care; three, we respect people; four, we strive for excellence.
Then we have identified six strategic areas that we are going to focus on. First, client’s satisfaction, manpower development and training, inward medical tourism; research and technological innovation and funding. We want to also cut the waiting time of patients before they see the doctor. We are already in discussion with our partners on a power plant.
We want to produce our own power because that is the first thing, any other thing we are doing is predicated on that. UBTH is the second largest teaching hospital in Nigeria with about 850 bed space hospital, second only to UCH.
So we have this pressure to perform because we are strategically located. We don’t really see the location as a pressure but we want to capitalize on it and give service to the people in the South-South and even those in the South-West.
How do you intend to funds these projects?
We have gone round town to identify some of the prominent citizens and we have impressed it on them that it is in the interest of everybody that UBTH works; if it does not work, it is a danger to everybody, both the rich and the poor.
If the hospital is not working, everybody will suffer it. For instance, there is a popular politician from Edo Central who had an accident some years ago, before he was taken abroad, he was given treatment to stabilize him for weeks at UBTH before he was flown abroad. And that is why he comes to UBTH every year to appreciate us. You can imagine what would have happened if we didn’t have that equipment to stabilise him.
UBTH is the only hospital in this region that has the capacity to provide quality health care. So we have gone to town to talk to some prominent individuals on the need for them to support the hospital because we don’t know who is going to be the next person. Because whether you like it or not no hospital around this region can compete with UBTH with the kind of structures and personnel we have.
Secondly, we have also engaged the Federal Government, the budget office and the National Assembly to make them realize that UBTH is the second biggest hospital in Nigeria; so it should get commensurate support to match that status considering the strategic location. Thirdly we want to look inward and see how we can make money with what we have. We are going to engage investors who can come partner with us in managing our 78 bedded conference centre and a tuneel in the hospital. We have not completed it but we want to get people to complete and run it.
We hear of mass burials in teaching hospitals; why do you have to do that?
I am a pathologist. So, people abandoning their loved ones in the mortuary has been a problem. We do mass burials to decongest the mortuary. If after a certain period, people leave their loves ones in the mortuary, we advertise it on TV and newspapers telling them to come for their dead ones but after three announcements we conduct mass burial. Though we have enough space right now, we do mass burial twice a year and our mortuary is okay.
Culled from Vanguard