Electricity Outage May Have Led to Maternal Death at J. J. Dossen Hospital

HARPER, Maryland – A Bush Chicken investigation has uncovered that an 18-year-old pregnant woman’s death on Monday, January 15 at the J. J. Dossen Hospital in Harper, Maryland may have been due to an electricity outage.

Lucy Mooney was a resident of Little Wlebo who had been receiving treatment at the Fish Town Clinic while undergoing her first pregnancy. However, when her family members noticed that she had been convulsing, they rushed her to a local church for prayers on Sunday, January 14.

After several prayers brought no sign of recovery, Mooney was then taken back to the clinic.

Upon arrival at the clinic, Mooney was immediately referred to the J. J. Dossen Hospital after health practitioners observed that her child had no heartbeat or movement, suggesting that the fetus had died. She needed urgent surgery to remove the dead fetus.

However, when Mooney arrived at the hospital, at approximately 8:00 p.m. that Sunday night, there was a power outage and the hospital’s backup generator was not on.

Siana T. Jackson Mentoe was the resident doctor on call at the hospital, although she was not at the hospital at the time Mooney was brought in.

Sources at the hospital, who would not speak on the record for fear of retaliation, confirmed that laboratory tests and other essential treatments could not be administered to Mooney because of the power outage. She reportedly died on Monday at approximately 8:00 a.m.

Harper benefits from the cross-border West African Power Pool project, sponsored by the European Union and the African Development Bank, which distributes power from neighboring Ivory Coast to bordering towns and cities.

However, while the electricity supplied to places like Tappita and Ganta is more stable, Harper has often experienced instability in its supply. Over the past couple of days, Harper has been experiencing power outages, which have negatively affected the smooth operation of major institutions, including the only southeast regional hospital, J. J. Dossen, and the William V. S. Tubman University.

The latest power outage lasted for three days, from January 13 to 16.

In the case of outages, the hospital’s backup generator is supposed to kick in, but our sources say funds allocated for purchasing fuel are often misappropriated. Hospital administrators often request funds from Partners in Health, an organization working to boost the health sector in southeastern Liberia.

One of two modern operation theaters at the J. J. Dossen Hospital. Photo: Zeze Ballah

Our sources mentioned that after Mooney’s death, Julia Nah Doe, the administrator of the hospital, negotiated with Partners in Health to receive five gallons of fuel for the hospital’s ambulance to transport the body back to Little Wlebo.

The Bush Chicken also reliably learned that the hospital’s generator was turned on the next day following the death of the lady.

When contacted via phone, Doe denied that the patient had died due to lack of electricity at the hospital.

She said the family had erred in taking Mooney to a church for prayers instead of immediately seeking medical attention.

“These are some of the cases that the patients’ families delay and blame the hospital when death occurs,” she said. “The family of the lady should be telling you what exactly transpired before bringing her to the hospital.”

When asked to provide The Bush Chicken with some medical reports surrounding Mooney’s death, Doe declined.

“It is a breach of protocol and it is not my position as the hospital administrator to give out medical reports,” she said, explaining that only the county health officer could make that decision.

Dr. Myers Pajibo, the county health officer, confirmed the death of a pregnant lady brought to the hospital but declined to confirm Mooney’s name.

Pajibo said an investigation was still ongoing and that “the public will be informed about the cause of the death.”

But Jasper Hotoe, brother to the victim’s boyfriend, corroborated the story from the source at the hospital. He said Mooney died at the hospital on Monday morning due to the lack of electricity.

Hotoe, a resident of Harper, said in an interview on Tuesday that he had been called to the hospital on Sunday, shortly after Mooney arrived. He said the hospital staff notified the family that Mooney needed to undergo a cesarean section to remove the dead fetus from her womb but that the procedure could not be performed without electricity.

Jasper Hotoe, brother of the victim’s boyfriend. Photo: George Momo

“My brother’s wife laid in the hospital from Sunday to Monday morning without being operated on,” he said.

Hotoe said when the generator fuel arrived on Monday morning, the hospital asked family members to sign documents to allow Mooney to be operated on. However, it was too late. As the family members were signing the documents, Mooney was pronounced dead.

“We hold the hospital authority responsible for the death of Mooney because we should have been informed to help provide fuel in order to save her life,” he said.

The hall of the obstetrics department at the J. J. Dossen Hospital. Photo: Zeze Ballah

“Mooney died because of the hospital authority carelessness,” Hotoe maintained.

Hotoe has called on the government and other concerned parties to probe Mooney’s death.

Liberia’s maternal mortality ratio is one of the highest in the world, with 1,072 maternal deaths for every 100,000 births.

George Momo contributed to this story. Featured photo by Zeze Ballah


Zeze Ballah

Zeze made his journalism debut as a high school reporter at the LAMCO Area School System. In 2016 and 2017, the Press Union of Liberia awarded Zeze with the Photojournalist of the Year award. Zeze was also the union's 2017 Health Reporter of the Year. He is a Health Journalism Fellow with Internews.

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