If it wasn’t already obvious, we are in deep trouble when it comes to health care in Saint Lucia. That sentiment was laid bare when Minister for Economic Development, Housing, Urban Renewal, Transport and Civil Aviation Guy Joseph, in his capacity as acting prime minister, this week announced he too would not think twice about demonstrating against the state of this island’s health services.
“I have no problem with people marching for better health care in Saint Lucia,” Joseph assured his audience of media personnel at this week’s pre-Cabinet meeting. “I can join a protest march on the issues of health affecting this country. I have no problems with that.”
What concerned him, he said, was when the Labour Party, “with no moral authority” decided to march on issues related to our country’s health, particularly in relation to the St. Jude project.
The uninsured hospital notoriously burned to the ground in September 2009. Three patients lost their lives, including a male teenager. This year marked the eighth year since the tragedy. As governments past and present grapple with what has become a mammoth task of rebuilding the southern health facility, hospital services have been conducted at the fast-deteriorating George Odlum sports stadium in Vieux Fort.
Asked by reporters at the pre-Cabinet meeting for an update on developments relating to the hospital, Joseph said the Labour Party’s reaction to the government’s stop-work decision was “unfortunate”.
“No matter how many times we say there are no plans to demolish St. Jude, that certain aspects of the hospital work need to be redone, that some of the work is intensive . . . regardless of how basic your language, some people pretend not to understand. They try to twist what was said, try to turn it around for selfish political reasons.”
Not for the first time, Joseph declared that his government had emphatically stated it had no plans that involved demolition of the structure in Vieux Fort, however badly planned and executed. Instead, he said, the UWP administration had highlighted publically some of the suggestions coming forward, including recommendations from a Mexican consultancy team that had advised the government that hospital renovations to the current facility would likely cost significantly more than the construction of a new facility.
Joseph dismissed as “cheap Labour Party politics” last Sunday’s SLP-organised protest demonstration in Vieux Fort that saw hundreds ostensibly marching in the name of St. Jude, demanding that government continue construction works and return the hospital to the service of the people.
“The Labour Party wanted a reason to do what it does best,” he went on. “Theirs was just another party activity pretending to be related to St. Jude.”
Joseph said the St. Jude hospital audit had been completed, and government had engaged consultants to prepare the As Built drawings. The drawings had reportedly been sent to two different teams of architects for review and recommendation purposes, which is where the project now stands.
Joseph could not say when some real movement was expected in the hospital development project. He was “not in the business of predicting timelines”.
“I wait on engineers,” he said. “You see, the [previous administration] gave three or four dates for the opening of a state-of-the-art hospital and they didn’t deliver. If we start repairs on the existing St. Jude facility, I expect that if I start the work, I will finish in six months, from the time that I start.”
As for making the audit public, Joseph said government had received advice on the way forward, and was proceeding accordingly. He promised that when related court cases have been lodged, and when “the information that needs to be out there is out there, we will have public discussions”.