Opposition, government and medical professionals, lock horns on healthcare crisis in St Lucia
The current healthcare crisis in Saint Lucia continues to dominate discussion and debate all sectors of society, leading to accusations and counterclaims between the government, opposition and the medical profession.
Leader of the opposition, Philip J. Pierre, in a national address on Tuesday, highlighted the confusion, anxiety, fear and emotional distress of residents.
“Most Saint Lucians do not have the privilege of accessing health care overseas when local services are not available or inadequate,” Pierre said, announcing an opposition St Lucia Labour Party (SLP) rally in support of St Jude Hospital and the fight for quality healthcare generally on Sunday, May 20.
Meanwhile, the ruling United Workers Party (UWP) immediately rolled out a schedule for a local meeting on Wednesday, May 16, and a national meeting on Sunday, May 20.
Pierre’s national address outlined the SLP’s principal concerns:
“During its four-and-a-half years in government the Saint Lucia Labour Party’s only intention was to complete the construction and reopening of St Jude Hospital to alleviate the plight of patients at the temporary premises at the George Odlum Stadium. We continued to seek grants and sourced a US$20 million loan from the Taiwanese government; all of which contributed to bringing the hospital close to completion by the year 2016.
“They [the Chastanet administration] chose instead to put $12 million into maintaining the temporary hospital facility at the George Odlum stadium, instead of using that money to bring the St Jude redevelopment project closer to completion. And, if the government takes the $12 million and adds it to the $27 million, which is still available from the loan secured from Taiwan by the SLP government, completion of the hospital can be achieved well within the estimated time projected by experienced engineers and architects.
“It cannot be right that in the midst of so much public anxiety that no clear policy direction is being articulated by the government on our health care system. One day, St Jude’s will be demolished, the next it will be repurposed; then no decision has been taken on St Jude’s, and then on another occasion a new building will be erected.
“The prime minister is prepared to destroy a $21 million meat facility, the subject of a gift from the Republic of China on Taiwan and the abandonment of a near $100 million St Jude’s reconstruction project to accommodate an investment in horse racing infrastructure – which in his own words will not be a profit-making venture.”
“In 2015 we passed the Millennium Heights Complex Act to provide the legal framework for the running of the OKEU [Owen King European Union] hospital as a statutory board after wide consultation and discussion with professionals and health experts.
“It is a cause of worry when a government that was elected to preserve and protect the citizen’s right to healthcare is now actively engaged in destroying public confidence in healthcare professionals by making disparaging comments about their competence. That type of behaviour is an indication that the government has lost its focus and is callous and uncaring as it relates to healthcare.
“And as it relates to the OKEU Hospital, one minute the transitioning of the OKEU is continuing; the next minute it is put on hold; then the OKEU will not be privatized but on another occasion, talks are ongoing with private interests from the Cayman Islands and Canada to farm out health care services.”
“In all of this let’s not forget the equally unacceptable conditions of health facilities in Soufriere following the fires at the hospital there. The government has also chosen to abandon work in progress to upgrade healthcare facilities in Dennery North and Anse La Raye. Our healthcare system is truly in a state of crisis and needs caring and responsible leadership.”
Economic development minister, Guy Joseph, said at an earlier press conference that the prime minister is expected to make an announcement within 30 days on the future of St Jude hospital and any new consideration being considered by the government at this point in time.
“Those who think that they can finish St Jude maybe they should give the government a proposal the government can complete St Jude, maybe they should give the government a proposal to finish St Jude,” he said.
Joseph’s remarks were in response to a recent expression of concern about the situation by the Saint Lucia Medical and Dental Association (SLMDA) headed by Dr Alphonsus St Rose, as “questionable” in contrast to the last five years and healthcare in general.
However, Joseph’s challenge encountered a 30-page technical proposal prepared for the SLMDA by Mark Hennecart of Interisland Architects and Planning Ltd for the transfer and commission of the operations from George Odlum Stadium to St Jude Hospital, which now forms part of the discussion on the crisis of healthcare and health infrastructure in the south of the island.
According to Hennecart, this is a preliminary project proposal, based on a very cursory inspection of a part of the works at the time of a joint site visit with members of the SLMDA, the board of management and members of staff of St Jude Hospital (SJH), on Friday, April 13, 2018.
“The purpose of this report is to provide the SLMDA with an indication of the potential for the SJH, in terms of cost, to be suitably refurbished, renovated and restored to its function as a healthcare facility at its original site.
“The proposal has outlined below, the structure of a project budget based on a three-phased approach to completing and commissioning the works. The estimated costs inclusive of VAT are as follows:
• Phases 1-3 EC$46.8 million (US$17.3 million)
• Phase 1 EC$ 20.6 million (US$7.6 million)
• Phases 2 and 3 EC$26.2 million (US$9.7 million)
“In order to facilitate the earliest transfer from the GONS [George Odlum National Stadium], the buildings at SJH would have to be executed and completed in phases, with illustrates how the buildings can be completed in three phases in order to accommodate all of the operations from the GONS.
“It was suggested at the time of the site visit of 13th April 2018, that in the interest of time and in an effort to alleviate the conditions at the GONS, consideration should be given to the option of having the proposed East (Medical) Wing at the SJH, completed in order to facilitate the earliest transfer of the most critical departments currently operating from the GONS.”
Owen King European Union Hospital (OKEU) – St Jude’s Hospital, currently housed at the George Odlum Stadium and St Jude’s Hospital Reconstruction Project (SJHRP)
The proposal also recommended that efforts should be made to recycle the structure(s) as opposed to demolishing and reconstructing all or part of SJH.
The St Jude Hospital has been under reconstruction following a fire and the death of three patients on September 9, 2009, until late 2016, when Chastanet stopped the reconstruction project indefinitely.
Meanwhile, Chastanet has denied signing any agreement with Health City in the Cayman Islands, for the commissioning of the OKEU.
“We continue to have dialogue with several different entities, the Cayman group being one of them. Cayman group were here last week, they had their main person based out of India reviewing the process, in hopes of preparing a proposal to the government.
“So, as I indicated [on Friday], I have not signed any agreements. We’ve not received any form of proposals from any one that we had dialog and discussing the framework of what that dialogue would look like,” he said.