Letters & Opinion

Healthcare in a State of Crisis

By Stephen Lester Prescott
img: Aerial view of the medical complex near the Millennium Highway with OKEU Hospital at the forefront.

This week, I listened with interest to the Prime Minister’s remarks when queried on the status of the national health insurance white paper. The Prime Minister promised that he will deliver the Government’s position on state of healthcare before year end, he did also say it would take 23 million dollars to improve the quality of OKEU… and of course there were just not enough beds in OKEU. So I ask, if it will take 23 million dollars for OKEU according to what the PM indicated, how much will St Jude now require?

Now I don’t know what any of you think, but honestly I don’t get the impression that the PM and his Cabinet are taking our health care crisis seriously. You see, unlike the majority of us the Prime Minister and his Cabinet have the luxury of jetting over to Martinique, Barbados, Trinidad, Miami, New York and even India for medical care. They can even get the state to sponsor their medicals while in office. How many of you are so privileged?

I think it’s important to remind the Prime Minister and his Cabinet about Article 25 of the 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services.”

The PM must therefore consider and treat our people’s health as one of the most basic and essential national assets. Ill health can keep us away from school or work, attending to family responsibilities or participating in community activities — in the end affecting the very development of our country.

Kudos are in order for our health professionals who continue to do their best in spite of the challenges.

But just as he did with crime, the then UWP Leader, Allen Chastanet, stated how “fashay” (totally vex) he was on the campaign trail because the Labour Administration had not opened the St Jude and the Owen King European Union hospitals.  Three years in, it is indeed totally unacceptable that absolutely no progress has been seen in our national health care system under this Administration. Although to be fair, the PM and Mary “Quite Contrary” have had three or four sod turnings on St Jude site and the Government took close to one million dollars to pay for a Technical Audit of St Jude. So if that counts as progress – guess they delivered.

But it was this Prime Minister who won elections after having campaigned with promises that good quality health services and facilities would be available to the people of St Lucia. He therefore can’t justify his failure to deliver on our health obligations because of a lack of resources. As soon as this government took office, they suspended all works on the St Jude hospital, with all kinds of ridiculous statements, allegations and excuses.  What is even worse, at the time of the suspension of works in August 2016, St Jude Hospital was less than eight months away from completion, with an estimated completion date of February 2017. A similar strategy was used with the Soufriere Square as I discussed last week.

In fact, contrary to the claims made by both Minister Isaac and Minister Guy Joseph, nowhere in that over 300 page technical audit was there any recommendation to demolish the structure.  Yet, despite all the lies and manipulations of this Administration there is no clear rationale why St Jude remains non-functional to this day.

From my recollection, work on St Jude commenced in August 2010; the Stephenson King led Government engaged the Taiwanese Government for assistance and they provided a grant of US $ 3.2 million (EC $8.9 million) for the reconstruction of a 32-bed surgical wing and a master plan for the entire site.

By August 2011, the UWP Government had decided to expand the scope of works to include the renovation of approximately 100,000 square feet of building space.

As such, by election time in December 2011, the UWP Government had issued at least six contracts totaling over $39 million although all the requisite funding was yet to be secured.

The project evolved from a renovation to a full-scale redevelopment.

When the SLP Government came to office in December 2011, they maintained all arrangements with respect to the St Jude hospital, including the contractor, project management unit and the consultant. By then, over $33 million had already been expended on the hospital, primarily on civil works.

These changes which commenced under the UWP Government were further augmented under the SLP Government.

According to the UWP-commissioned FDL Audit Report: “ At the time of reporting, the value of works and supplies contracts awarded for SJHRP was Eastern Caribbean, One Hundred and Eighteen Million, One Hundred and Nine Thousand, One Hundred and Seventy-Seven dollars and eighteen Cents (EC$118,109,177.18). These contracts were awarded over a period spanning August 2010 to September 2014.”

According to my information, approximately EC$140.1 million had been raised for the St Jude Hospital to date. So, the question is: why then was work not resumed, given that the money was available when UWP came into office?

Despite all the venting of the UWP administration, the hospital remains closed with the commissioning only of the morgue. Where is the conscience of Mary Isaac as our southern communities continue to suffer in these inhumane conditions at the stadium?

Do these Ministers care about the cost implications for Saint Lucians when basic health services are not available on island?  And what of potential jeopardy to the vital golden goose tourism, when the state has a health crisis? And let’s not forget the millions of tax dollars from donors who have supported both St Jude and the EU Owen King Hospital.

Can the Prime Minister provide a time frame for the full commissioning of the OKEU hospital?

Can the Prime Minister stop the contradictions and give believable guidance on the rumours on the privatization of OKEU?

Can the Prime Minister advise on the status/location of all the equipment that has been purchased for these hospitals?

Will the public get an opportunity to review his white paper on healthcare?

Questions, questions, questions for the Prime Minister and his health ministers. We want, deserve and demand answers — and we don’t want to hear about more investigations, or any more white and green papers. Saint Lucians would like to know when these hospitals will be completed and commissioned.

The UWP and Allen Chastanet were elected to get it done – so, the citizenry demands answers!

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