Letters & Opinion

St Jude and the Art of the Con – Part 20: The Other Side of Midnight

David Prescod
By David Prescod, Engineer & Project Manager — former CEO of WASCO

THE title is borrowed from the novel by Sidney Sheldon (1973).

As we begin to look at the second narrative arising from this St. Jude Hospital saga – heartlessness, we return to the calypso by Gypsy which we referred to in our “Soul of a Nation” series, and to his refrain:

“Somebody tiefing the soul ah mih nation

Somebody gone with the morals of this land …

And we, yes, you and me, we have to stop this conspiracy”

For St. Jude hospital, the clock has been stuck at midnight for the last eighteen months. Dumped into a makeshift facility at the George Odlum Stadium for the last nine years, the tease of moving back to its original home remains just that for St. Jude – a tease. Not even impassioned public pleas by the Chairman of the Hospital Board for the return of the hospital to its original site have been entertained by this administration.

The Chairman is himself a medical practitioner who has served Vieux Fort for close on forty years, and was a candidate in the last elections for the UWP which now forms the government. No one in the government with which he is associated will listen to him.

As we draw the curtains on our discussions of this unsettling chapter in our public lives, we should also remind ourselves that in all of this, no one is suggesting that the process of engagement of consultants and contractors, nor that of the purchase of equipment is what it theoretically should have been. Most of all, no one is suggesting that the reconstructed St. Jude is an ideal hospital facility, or that its functional spaces are ideally sized.

But for those who would happily condemn the efforts of the past so that they may create their own future, two things should be borne in mind.

The first is that rehabilitation of St. Jude began as a crisis exercise following its destruction by fire, and continued under near crisis conditions with the scarcity of funding. No doubt that political decisions to expand the scope of the facility contributed to that funding crisis, but the resulting facility is what we would expect to find in a functional hospital. At least, no one over the last eighteen months has pointed to a unit within the hospital and suggested that it was an ill-advised frill.

The second thought to be considered is that, according to the Project Manager’s handover report, of the EC$98 million spent on the hospital so far EC$41 million has come from Grants and Donations, and of that sum, some EC$2 million was contributed by St. Lucians.

More than simply cash however, many persons have sacrificed and invested of themselves in the re-construction of St. Jude, not the least of whom are the staff and management of the hospital who continue to provide a service to residents of the South under extremely difficult conditions at the makeshift location.

St. Jude belongs to us – all of us, but more so to those who have sacrificed and continue to sacrifice in her name. She is ours, with all her warts, wrinkles and moles, low ceilings and narrow corridors and whatever other faults our nouveau elite political directorate may find with her. A comforting facility, in a location that the community identifies with, and which the management and staff chose to keep.

It is unconscionable that anyone could seek to rip that investment of our people to shreds. In whatever name – politics or construction codes; by whatever mechanism – partial demolition, full demolition and reconstruction, or relocation and re-purposing, only truly decadent people could propose this and seek to justify this Government’s seeming contempt for our people and their efforts.

As, even while our Prime Minister told us in October that he was still making up his mind on the future of St. Jude, we were shortly afterwards pre-emptively told by the Minister for Economic Development that we are designing a new hospital.

And when our Prime Minister announced in Parliament last month that he would present his new vision for St. Jude Hospital in the next few weeks, we were left to wonder whether this vision had been conjured up by Teo Ah Khing, who now seems to be designing half of our country, or if it came from his recent trip to Cayman Islands and the Health City hospital which he toured while there and spoke so positively about on his return.

Neither option is acceptable to us, and Prime Minister Chastanet should do the honourable thing now and hand the hospital, in its current state, over to its Board and Management. Those are the persons to whom the functioning of this facility has been entrusted, and they are the persons who should decide on its future.

Handing over of the hospital to its Board and Management for completion will represent a new dawn for St. Jude, and an end to this midnight nightmare to which it has unnecesssarily been subjected for so long.

Next week we look at that threat to our democracy which I alluded to last November.

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