Who would argue if our leaders should decide to rename Saint Lucia after the Patron Saint of Lost Causes? It wouldn’t be a first for this country that our Arawak ancestors once called Iyanola—Land of Many Iguanas. For countless years healthcare has been among our recurring woes. As if we didn’t already have more than our fair share of bridges to nowhere, there was Saturday’s fire at the Soufriere hospital, the second in three weeks. The first, on November 9, had been mostly limited to the records room. In the most recent incident, the flames ripped through the hospital’s maternity ward, the mental wellness area and the general supplies room.
According to official reports, no injuries or casualties were sustained as a result of the fire but “valuable equipment and supplies which were in one of the storerooms” were destroyed. Senior Medical Officer Dr. Sharon Belmar-George, speaking after the incident, said the health ministry was working with St. Jude Hospital and Victoria Hospital personnel in its quest to provide additional support. Interim measures have reportedly been put in place at the Etangs Wellness Centre, while primary care services were relocated to the St. Isidore’s Hall, in Soufriere.
Herod Stanislas, the town’s parliamentary representative, reported that when he arrived at last Saturday’s fire the flames had already been brought under control, thanks to “the good people of Soufriere” and fire teams from Soufriere and Vieux Fort.
The bad news: “The hospital has no supplies to operate on at the moment. In maternity ward, there were several new pieces of equipment such as new incubators, scales, and thermometers—all of that got destroyed as well.”
Agencies were expected to meet this week to determine the way forward, and the length of time services would be relocated. The minister expressed concern for the back-to-back fires, and recommended that the fire department and the police “carry out a thorough investigation, so that we can determine the causes of those two fires.”
The minster reported that he still had not gotten a report about the cause of the first fire. He also spoke briefly about threats reportedly received by nurses at the Soufriere hospital prior to November 9, but said, “I am unable to associate that with any of the fires.”
Describing Soufriere as a tourism mecca, which required proper functioning health facilities, the minister reflected on a meeting held last week with various stakeholders in relation to a feasibility survey on the hospital that had to do with whether or not to keep it at the original site. He described the proceedings as “a very good presentation on the alternative site, and costing, and other options”, and said, “At this moment I believe we need to expedite this process of relocating the hospital.”
The truth of the matter is, long before Soufriere fire responders even had a chance to get to the scene to put out last weekend’s fire, Saint Lucia’s health care facilities were already in dire straits. Think St Jude, and the largely under resourced Victoria Hospital that has continued to be more than an incessant thorn in the side of the public. St Jude in particular has been the central focus lately, with hospital services still being housed in the Vieux Fort stadium eight years after that hospital was also destroyed by fire.
At Monday’s pre cabinet meeting, Minister for Economic Development, Housing, Urban Renewal, Transport and Civil Aviation Guy Joseph revealed the latest development on St Jude, which had to do with a letter written on January 13, 2016, signed by the Project Consultant, Mandish Sighn, and addressed to Bio International Medical Cooperation.
The company had reportedly been paid in excess of five million dollars for hospital equipment by the previous administration. Those funds had been in their possession according to the minister, since 2011-2012.
“The time period has been extended on a number of occasions, and they came in today, because the time period has lapsed yet again for the procurement of the equipment,” Joseph elaborated. “But they have our money with no performance bond in place for the security of the money belonging to the St Jude project.”
Joseph again questioned why the hospital had not been finished by the last administration, when in that same letter, based on the project consultant’s report, the project was reportedly expected to be completed by August 2016. “The UWP was elected on June 6, 2016. Work continued at the hospital past August, after the UWP came into office… So why wasn’t the hospital completed based on this information?” the minister put forth.
Joseph vowed once again to keep the matter in the public domain, as “there’s no way I am going to allow what is happening here to continue happening.”
He promised also to deal with the St Jude Hospital Reconstruction Project Handover Report “at the right place, and the right time.”