Letters & Opinion

Is there an Occupational Health & Safety Crisis at St Jude Hospital?

Image of St. Jude Hospital.

THE EDITOR: Two recent reports of inspection on the health, safety and other operational aspects of St. Jude Hospital reveal a horrible state of affairs. The inspections were conducted in 2015 and 2018 by an independent and professional occupational safety and health specialist. While the first report identified 107 deficiencies, the second listed 170 including many of those mentioned in the previous inspection.

Both reports described the situation at SJH as an inhospitable working environment. The safety and health hazards and deficiencies identified in relation to working space, storage of equipment and materials, lighting and ventilation, indoor air quality dust control, functioning of equipment and waste management systems, physical conditions of ceiling, walls and floors, rodent, insect and mold infestations, exposure to wires/cables and make-shift structures, are just too numerous to mention. Dr. Ulric Mondesir’s description of the hospital as a “dungeon of shame” seems appropriate based on the findings of the specialist.

The horrible situation at the hospital led the specialist to conclude that “This building (i.e. the George Odlum Stadium) is grossly inadequate to effectively facilitate the activities conducted at a hospital and management has no authority to make any alteration to the buildings to facilitate the activities carried out to guarantee the safety and health of the workers, patients, and the public.” The specialist gave the employer 21 days in which to execute the recommendations made in accordance with Part IV of the St. Lucia Labour Act, #37 of 2006.

In the report of 2018 the specialist noted that the St. Jude Hospital Board of Management had informed him that about 27% of the recommendations made in the 2015 report had been implemented. But, by and large, both the Hospital Board and the Government of St. Lucia have shown a callous disregard to the recommendations of a professional towards ensuring the health and safety of the SJH staff, patients and the public at large. Both are intentionally breaking the law relating to occupational safety and health of workers. The Department of Labour and the various trade unions representing the workers cannot continue to remain silent on the dangerous situation that has been allowed to grow and fester at the hospital.

The current Allen Chastanet Administration must take the major share of the blame for the situation at the hospital. That situation could have been resolved two years ago had the government heeded the advice and appeals of health professionals, SJH staff, qualified and experienced engineers, friendly governments, concerned citizens and the wider citizenry of St. Lucia to do the right and sensible thing i.e. complete the reconstruction of SJH and transfer hospital operations from the George Odlum Stadium to the new, more spacious, more conducive and more appropriately re-designed medical facility.

Instead, the Allen Chastanet Administration chose to spend close to EC$1millon for a Technical Audit on the St. Jude Hospital Reconstruction Project, the findings of which were never made public, start a war of words with the St. Lucia Labour Party on “why you did not finish the hospital”, contrive a scheme for proposing alternative uses for the hospital structure none of which seems to be bearing fruit, and spend an undisclosed amount removing the fibre-glass roof of the stadium. The roofing structure remains uncovered after three months.

A lot of time and money has been wasted on SJH, work was stopped over two years ago and the multi-million dollar facility remains closed. It is surrounded by overgrown bushes and is becoming a haven for bats and rodents. The possibility that this facility could be vandalized is not far-fetched. The Vieux-Fort Concerned Citizens Coalition for Change (VF4Cs) once again appeals to the Allen Chastanet Administration to complete and reopen SJH and put a stop to the suffering that the residents of the south have endured for nearly 10 years. (Vieux-Fort Concerned Citizens Coalition for Change)

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