St. Jude Hospital was set ablaze years ago, singeing to death three patients and rendering the facility unfit for use. Staff and patients were relocated to George Odlum Stadium in Vieux Fort for what was supposed to be a few months; however, 9 September, 2017 marked the eighth anniversary of the fire and “temporary” relocation of the hospital.
The board and staff of St. Jude Hospital described the response from the public in 2009 as “valiant” and appreciated the donations of money, time and equipment to the facility over time.
St Jude Hospital serves specifically about 70,000 people in the southern districts of Saint Lucia but has attended to patients throughout the island and region. It remains a crucial establishment to Saint Lucians since it opened as a charity hospital in September 1966, serving as an efficient and memorable health institution.
The first plan of action in 2010 of the United Workers Party (UWP) administration was to demolish, reconstruct and equip the scorched surgical and paediatric wards and the operations theatre, which was scheduled for completion by the end of 2011. However, by then reports of miscalculations and errors during the project, as well as the need to demolish the entire building and reconstruct, was transferred to the newly elected Saint Lucia Labour Party (SLP) administration. The then prime minister, Dr. Kenny Anthony, promised to continue the project and that it would require US $125 million to have the facility operable.
By February 2014 St Jude Hospital was still undergoing construction. The Minister of Health at the time, Alvina Reynolds, mentioned improvements in the work
being done and that the following months promised a speedy update so that St Jude Hospital could be returned to its rightful site by September 2014. But by September 2015, six years after the devastating fire, staff and patients were still being housed in the stadium. At the time, George Odlum Stadium was reported to have “deteriorated significantly” with an estimated cost of $15 million to repair.
After elections on 6 June 2016, the project was handed back to the UWP administration which almost immediately ceased operations and opted to evaluate the facility first.
Hess Corporation, Bank of Saint Lucia, Cable & Wireless, and international governments, specifically that of United Mexican States and Republic of China (Taiwan), as well as organisations like the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) and private donors have so far sponsored some $150 million to the reconstruction of St. Jude Hospital.
On 9 August, 2017 the Ministry of Health handed over the newly developed St Jude Hospital morgue to its Board of Directors. It seemed that the silver lining was finally visible and the opening of the hospital itself was drawing nearer.
“I’m in relentless pursuit to see that this hospital, St Jude Hospital, be opened. And I hope if it is opened between December and January, it will be a gift for Christmas to the sick man. It will be a New Year’s gift for the sick man. We need this hospital open sooner than we think,” Dr. Ulric Mondesir, Chairman of the Board said.
But woefully, weeks after St Jude’s Board of Directors toured the premises of the potentially new hospital, Minister of Health, Senator Mary Isaac announced on September 14 that the redevelopment project might very well be discontinued.
“I believe that the recommendation to demolish the hospital and start all over again really needs to be considered seriously. Although we are very aware of the pressure that we currently have on the structure where St Jude’s is housed, we may not have any choice in the matter,” she said.
According to the minister, the newly constructed building would not be fit to house a hospital. The structure, only after years of labour, was evaluated to reveal that it does not obtain the standards necessary to be a health facility and it would be more suitable for a school, but even so, the ventilation available in the building is not enough.
In response to this, the public was in uproar. The Saint Lucia Labour Party quickly urged the Allen Chastanet-led administration to “make a definitive statement on the future of St Jude Hospital”. Further, the SLP claimed that the party “is horrified by the statement” made by Minister Isaac.
Members of the hospital’s Board were unwilling to comment because of the seemingly politically influenced discussions about the project. One member noted, “We don’t want to get involved in between the political parties because we have a health institution to run . . . The Board will only be uneasy if there is a definitive decision concerning continuation of the project.”
The Chairman of the Board himself was unavailable to comment due to the ongoing meetings about the plans for the hospital. But those who are forced to remain in the situation – the staff of St Jude Hospital – for the past eight years have provided service in its temporary location.
“Supplies are limited and parts of the stadium are falling apart,” a staff member complained, “There’s also limited space and we cannot provide all the service needed immediately for patients.” She also mentioned the inconvenience faced when sometimes patients needed to be transported to the other side of the stadium, and when pipes occasionally burst in the facility. “We’re also very understaffed but we do the best we can with who and what we have. It’s frustrating the decisions made by politicians and the delays made with the new building but we still have to care for the people of the south,” she said, sharing similar sentiments with members of the Board.
Others, however, believe that the entire situation needs to be rid of politics and quality health care has to be brought into focus.
“What needs to happen is a non-partisan approach. Because, at the end of the day, whether you care for red or yellow and you’re in an emergency in the south, you’ll be brought to a ‘hospidium’. Whereas if you’re in an emergency in the north you will be brought to a hospital,” a woman from Vieux Fort told the STAR. “Politicians don’t seem to grasp that.”