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Bluffs And Privatization of OKEU Hospital

Image: Aerial view of the Dr. Owen King-EU Hospital. [PHOTO: Bill Mortley]

MUCH has been said and written about the Owen King European Union (OKEU) Hospital from the time of its sod-turning in 2009 to the date given for its completion in 2012.

The hospital was first said to have cost EC$150 million, then a figure of EC$180 million was given by a government source as early as last year, with the European Union contributing most of that money.

Since then, a whole lot of misinformation and shams have been directed at the St. Lucian populace by none other than government officials, who are in a better position than any other to know exactly the various stages of the hospital’s development or progress.

For one reason or another, statements made by health ministers and their permanent secretaries about the hospital seem never to be accurate. Sadly too, they never come back to say they were wrong about certain things they said about the hospital, or to explain why their pronouncements were inaccurate.

Speaking particularly about a date for the opening of the OKEU Hospital is something which has now become a rather ticklish situation for whichever party that is in power.

Let us go back two years ago, to the month of January 2016,to be exact, when top officials in the Ministry of Health were adamant that the hospital would be open later that same year — the same year the hospital was given the current name it has.

So, here I am, sitting at a function when then Health Minister Alvina Reynolds and Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health, Cointhia Thomas, both confirmed that the hospital will open for business later in the year.

The 28 January, 2016 issue of The VOICE Newspaper gives a more detailed account of what the two ladies said.

Minister Reynolds’ answer to whether the hospital would be open later that same year was a classic. I mean, she was so convincing that one would not have had any trouble going to the bank with what she said.

“Yes! Definitely we are going to open this year,” was her emphatic answer to the question.

You cannot get it better than that. This was not a ‘maybe’ or a ‘hope’ that the hospital will open in 2016. That kind of response from Reynolds told one that everything was in place for the hospital’s opening, nothing was overlooked.

How many of us remember that the naming of the hospital took place in February 2016 as part of celebrations marking the 37th anniversary of St. Lucia’s Independence.

But if you think Reynolds was a piece of work, what would you say for P.S. Thomas, who said that the transition from Victoria Hospital to the OWEU had already begun.

She said: “We will be announcing a day for the actual moving of the patients at Victoria Hospital to the new hospital.” She also said that patients would be moved by ambulance.

Well we all know the story. Victoria Hospital patients are still at Victoria Hospital. Only patients on dialysis are entering and leaving the OKEU, since the newly installed machines have finally been put into operation, sparking the government today to say that that represents a soft opening of the hospital.

But more about this soft opening at a later date.

Now let’s move to late August 2017, where I am sitting once again before yet another Permanent Secretary and Minister of Health in the persons of Felix St. hill and Mary Isaac, respectively.

And of course an official opening date for the hospital is part of the discourse, always a part of the discourse whenever the OKEU Hospital comes up at a press conference.

This time the Health Ministry’s top brass gave a new timeline for the hospital’s opening. Out of that press briefing came the understanding that the hospital should be ready for business later that year. A possible year-end (2017) opening was envisioned.

Again one could check the 2 September, 2017 issue of The VOICE Newspaper for further details.

The duo in fact gave the impression that the transition from Victoria Hospital to the OKEU, to be done in three stages, would be completed by the end of 2017. We already know that dialysis patients are the only ones that have moved from Victoria Hospital.

On Tuesday, Governor General Sir Neville Cenac gave a new time period for the opening of the hospital. In his Throne Speech, he said “Greater impetus will be given to the commissioning of the new national hospital, continuing the transitioning of the Victoria Hospital to the Owen King EU Hospital in a phased manner. It is My Government’s goal to complete this exercise within the coming fiscal year.”

Sounds familiar? It sure does — another year given for the hospital opening. So what shall we do, take him at his word, or put it down to another bluff again by our government?

Soon we will be ending the first quarter of 2018 and talks have moved away from the hospital’s opening to its privatization, a subject causing far more heat for the Government of St. Lucia than the government anticipated.

Government’s response so far to the new emerging public debate on privatization of the hospital has been, well, zero to date.

On Monday the professional body of the Medical and Dental Association practically drew a line in the sand demanding of the government to come talk with it on the subject of privatization of the OKEU.

President Alphonsus St. Rose said the group has been hearing talks about government’s intentions to privatize the hospital. He wants government to have dialogue with his group along the lines of the type of management it may deem necessary for the OKEU.

And he is not the only one asking to dialogue with government.

The powerful Civil Service Association, which is a trade union and the Nurses Association, which could cause some serious drama in the health sector if provoked, are also seeking dialogue with the government, not just on the privatization issue but on the government plans for the country’s healthcare system. And they mean business.

“As a professional group, as an association, we have a duty, a responsibility to preserve the right of St. Lucians to access healthcare in whatever format, at an affordable cost because the price of healthcare keeps going up. Is that a sustainable construct?” St. Rose asked of the privatization issue.

According to St. Rose the government owns the health facilities and therefore it is their job to fix them and that the job of his group and others is to put pressure on the government to provide them with information so they could preserve and protect the rights of the St. Lucian people and the members of professional bodies like his, the nurse association and others.

“We need information. We will do whatever we can to make them (government) come to the table with us for dialogue because it’s in the public interest,” St. Rose said.

Micah George is an established name in the journalism landscape in St. Lucia. He started his journalism tutelage under the critical eye of the Star Newspaper Publisher and well known journalist, Rick Wayne, as a freelancer. A few months later he moved to the Voice Newspaper under the guidance of the paper’s recognized editor, Guy Ellis in 1988.

Since then he has remained with the Voice Newspaper, progressing from a cub reporter covering court cases and the police to a senior journalist with a focus on parliamentary issues, government and politics. Read full bio...


  1. It is fair play is this what the country is asking for? Why does the PM? Why is he afraid
    of the truth? Every sector is to be privatise, no consultation! I will stop here but Micha
    keep on the good work bro.

    ps: You may not have a chance to write an article like that again if you allow the new
    legislation to take place. HAPPY EASTER TO YOU AND ALL THE VOICE WORKERS!!

  2. Good piece Micah! They’re pissing in our eyes and nowadays they’re bothering to suggest it’s rain.

    Why is it so difficult for public servants, to come straight with us on anything? Why can’t come to us say, “you know we announced an opening in six weeks but that date was based on certain assumptions that have not been borne out and we’re now forced to push back that date?”

    Why is so difficult for Government to come up with a realistic date for opening the hospital? Is it disregard? Is it incompetence?

    Whatever it is, it must stop.

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