On the morning of Wednesday, September 9, 2009 a fire raged at the southern St Jude Hospital in the wee hours and left three hospital patients dead; 17-year-old Jay St Aimee, 87-year-old Joseph Jn Baptiste and 60-year-old Claudius Soudine. Since then St Jude’s medical faculty has had to resort to conducting hospital activities within a sports facility, the George Odlum Stadium.
Exactly one year after the tragedy, on September 9, 2010 to be precise, a symbolic demolition marked the commencement of reconstruction efforts. At that point Prime Minister Stephenson King promised the surgical building, which was completely destroyed, and other parts of the hospital would be rebuilt and renovated within a ten-month period. The end of that ten-month period is July, 2011. When the media was given a tour of the hospital reconstruction site on Wednesday, March 30, project manager Shanta King said construction would likely be complete in the final quarter of 2011, but could not give a specific date.
At the 2010 sod-turning ceremony the revelation was made that the hospital’s original location in Augier, once reconstructed, would only serve as a temporary home. Once St Jude was restored the wheels would be put in motion for the construction of a new 90-bed healthcare facility for the hospital at a new location: a twenty–one acre site within close proximity of the George Odlum National Stadium.
Alva Baptiste, who represented opposition leader Kenny Anthony at the ceremony, opposed the move saying, “This is the natural habitat of this hospital and there is sufficient space for a hospital that can cater for our needs for the next hundred or two hundred years. There is no need to explore alternatives.” Prime Minister King defended his government’s approach saying, “If we had adopted that posture for the Victoria Hospital in the recent past, today Saint Lucia would not be building a brand new hospital. This modern, state-of-the-art healthcare facility will be designed and constructed as a sustainable, multi-purpose hospital.”
King said government made provisions in the 2010 budget of EC$20 million ($10.3 million was to be financed from loan funding) to go towards the new St Jude “earmarked to be the hallmark of the south”. The island’s prime minister attributed the move to limitations associated with the existing site.
“Its eastern portion is steep and an invasion of squatters along its northern, southern and western boundaries makes expansion difficult,” King said. “The shape of the 25-acre lot also presents limitations. Of great importance also, is the location of the Hewanorra International Airport in the south of the island, which requires that there be access to emergency medical and surgical services on a 24-hour basis.”
At the media tour organised by government, Shanta King said the perception that no work was being done was not correct; work had been ongoing from September, 2010.
When asked, officials at the briefing chose not to give a final figure in terms of the overall cost as “a number of components were still being costed”. Officials left it up to Prime Minister Stephenson King to make the announcement in the upcoming budget address.
As it related to assistance from international governments, it was revealed that the surgical building would be designed, financed, and reconstructed through a grant from the Republic of China/Taiwan. According to Shanta King, the grant which was in the region of US$3.1 million would also include the provision of relevant equipment.
Shanta King noted other issues, including that of asbestos material in the roofing of all the structures, had been taken into consideration, and were presently being addressed.
“St Jude is not just the surgical building,” she said. “The roofing has been demolished on all the buildings on the site and we are now in the process of replacing all the roofs.”
Additional modifications are to be made on the hospital on recommendation of hospital executives in an effort to make operations more efficient. In the east wing, some wards were to be demolished, reconfigured and constructed.
Officials revealed the main contractor for reconstruction was a Taiwanese contractor who was obligated to hire a Saint Lucian sub-contractor. Shanta King said the actual Taiwanese delegation varied in numbers, but said Taiwanese personnel focused on specialist type services, specifically to do with the installation of equipment and the design component.
Government press secretary Darnley Labourne noted that a structure on site, which was normally used as a dormitory for visiting doctors or volunteers, would be renovated to accommodate the stay of the Taiwanese delegation on site in relation to construction.
Consideration was also given to the construction of a smaller building which would provide additional storage space for the hospital and help rectify existing sewage treatment problems.
“The project has taken on almost a life of its own . . . it would be an additional request, and additional need of St Jude, beyond what existed before,” Shanta King said. “This is one of the components we’re working on to complete, in terms of the costing. By the time the prime minister addresses the country in the budget, that information would be available.”
While the project manager said it was difficult to say the exact month hospital construction would be complete, she expected the hospital to be in a position to reoccupy the site on a gradual basis within the last quarter of 2011.
“It’s a functioning hospital,” she said. “The physical works will be complete so St Jude would have to put plans in place to relocate operations at the stadium to this facility. I think we need to give them at least a month or two realistically to be able to transition. What might happen: certain services may be available here, and still at the stadium other services may be available. I think there will be a transition point, the last quarter of the year might be the transitional period for St Jude.”
“Clearly we want to provide services that are more advanced than what we had before,” Chierry A. Poyotte, St Jude Hospital CEO offered. “We had challenges in the past, for example with the operating room. We expect we’ll have state-of- the art-equipment for the operating room, for example. Additionally, radiology and laboratory will be reconfigured and we’re hoping to upgrade equipment both in the lab and radiology as we move forward.”
To date the Project Management Unit within the Ministry of Finance has collected roughly EC$3.8 million in the St Jude Rehabilitation Fund from contributions from individuals, organisations and friendly governments. Out of those donations, Hess Oil contributed one million dollars’ worth of medical equipment, and equipment was also donated by the US Government.
“We expect when St Jude moves back to the current site there would be a number of upgrades to the equipment they have now,” Shanta King said. “The cost of the project would be in excess of EC$3.8 million so the money collected represents a small percentage of what government is mobilizing, and has mobilized to finance renovation works.”
The question in everyone’s mind was, once the new hospital was built, what would happen to the structure now being renovated?
Within a government booklet entitled ‘Rising From the Ashes’ mention is made of the possibility of the St Jude Hospital being developed as a Medical Research Facility, or something related to the field of medicine. At Wednesday’s briefing Shanta King elaborated:
“We expect to arrange for this facility, whether it be through the point of view of leasing the facility – one of the options is to have dialogue with one of the medical schools. There are a number of medical schools in Saint Lucia, particularly in Vieux Fort, and some trying to establish themselves, intending to build campuses. We do not intend for any of the work being done now to go to waste; plans are afoot to have discussions with various people to come up with a solution that works best for all.”
The preceding was first published in the STAR newspaper on April 1, 2011.