By Melanius Alphonse
Caribbean News Now associate editor
CASTRIES, St Lucia — Healthcare professionals and civic organizations, including the Saint Lucia Medical and Dental Association (SLMDA), the Saint Lucia Nurses Association, together with the Civil Service Association (CSA), and the Saint Lucia Labour Party (SLP), have called on the government of Saint Lucia to take immediate action on the worsening healthcare crisis in the country, “or else”.
This situation has come to a boil following unresolved occupational safety and health violations, inadequate staffing, insufficient medical supplies, wait times of four days to access a hospital bed and worsening healthcare infrastructure.
Acting executive director of the Victoria Hospital, Brenda Calixte, released a statement on Monday regarding the collapse of a ceiling at Victoria Hospital:
“On Saturday morning, [November 10] during the inclement weather, the staff-based station on maternity ward collapsed. The ceiling collapsed. We know that the infrastructure is a very old one and it is already compromised, so as a result of that, the ceiling came down.
“During that time there was nobody in the area so staff safety or patient safety was not compromised. But we had to evacuate the room adjacent to the nursing station. One patient alone was in there and that patient was safe.”
The government has been struggling to adopt a “new development strategy” in line with the World Bank ethos: “If you have a healthy nation, the level of productivity is greater. If you have a well-educated and equipped workforce, your output is also greater,” albeit in the midst of deteriorating economic, social, healthcare and infrastructure conditions island-wide.
Meanwhile, the SLMDA, in a letter to Prime Minister Allen Chastanet dated November 1, 2018, reiterated that the situation is becoming progressively worse as a result of his administration’s policy:
“You no doubt appreciate the extent of public dissatisfaction and outrage at our downward spiraling healthcare paradigm especially over the past nine years which clearly no longer serves the best interest of either our healthcare providers or the public.
“Prime Minister, you were very clear in your pronouncement to SLMDA that the medium and long-term considerations regarding what happens to St Jude Hospital (i.e., Cabinet’s foregone decision to build a new hospital structure, separate from what presently exists) remains the exclusively non-negotiable purview of the Cabinet, while all SLMDA is allowed to participate and/or share in is only the interim/immediate term-period resolution process. SLMDA in principle has a fundamental issue with that kind of rationalization and modus operandi.”
Following an open letter to the EU Commission on the privatisation of the EU-funded hospital in Saint Lucia, a response from Stefano Manservisi, director general for International Cooperation and Development, European Commission, read in part:
“European support to the construction of the Owen King European Hospital [OKEU] aims at expanding available healthcare infrastructure and medical equipment in Saint Lucia. The Commission remains committed to supporting the process and trusts that the management model to be retained for the future hospital will ensure transparency and sound financial management. In parallel, the Commission will continue to assist the government in formulating a sustainable healthcare policy, including a national insurance scheme.
“The European Union will continue to engage with the Government of Saint Lucia in order to ensure the implementation of jointly agreed objectives, in particular ensuring access to affordable and quality healthcare for all Saint Lucians.”
According to general secretary of the CSA, Claude Paul, on Tuesday, the conclusion is that it is very clear those in charge of health care do not care:
“The situation with St Jude remains unresolved while successive administrations level blame at each other. The use of the George Odlum Stadium as a temporary hospital is no longer acceptable as the facility has been deemed unfit for this purpose and the quality of health care services continue to deteriorate. A report from the ministry of labour has highlighted numerous occupational safety and health violations, which would have forced the closure of any private institution. The government is therefore breaking the law of the land and continues to ignore the recommendation of the officials of the ministry of labour. More importantly though, there is no empathy for the doctors, nurses and support staff who must work in those torrid conditions.”
Paul continued, as regards to health and safety issues:
“The situation at Victoria Hospital is equally challenging for our members. At the last count there were over 300 instances of health and safety violations and of course no action has been taken because of the plans to transition to the OKEU. VH is falling apart while we have a brand-new hospital virtually next door and which remains unoccupied for the most part. Our understanding is that the maintenance cost of running VH is extremely high and government is forced to take draconian measures such as reducing the number of sessional nurses.
“We also have similar concerns with air quality and other occupational safety and health hazards at the Gros Islet Poly Clinic.”
On the matter of the privatization of the OKEU, Paul said that, while the board has been appointed, there are no consultations with the trade unions on the way forward, and called on the government for inclusion and greater transparency in this very important public matter:
“We urge government to preserve the welfare of our members and health workers. We encourage government to ‘put people before profit’, and we reject the notion of privatising health care in the country.”
Meanwhile, at a press conference on Wednesday, the SLP parliamentary representative for Vieux-Fort North and opposition spokesman for health, agriculture, food production and fisheries, Moses Jn Baptiste said that they “observed with trepidation that recently the crisis in healthcare in Saint Lucia has worsened. In addition, while the crisis deepens the commissioning of the OKEU Hospital is showing little progress and being conducted under a cloud of secrecy.”
According to the SLP, “the worsening healthcare situation has caused the public of Saint Lucia increased disquiet and fear”, adding that “it is now two and a half years since work on the St Jude Hospital project was brought to a halt by the UWP government, with no good reason provided by the government.”
“The prime minister has stated that he and his Cabinet are considering the construction of a ‘field hospital’ to house the patients and staff from the George Odlum Stadium,” contrary to expert advice “that the East Wing of the existing St Jude complex if completed can accommodate the patients and staff, now housed at the Odlum Stadium.
“Further confusion has been added by the prime minister when he revealed that there is also active consideration being given to transferring the patients from the George Odlum National Stadium to the Victoria Hospital.”
The SLP said it has been reliably informed that “the United Workers Party (UWP) administration has decided that the original St Jude Hospital structure will be handed over to a foreign private company to be operated for profit.”
Jn Baptiste continued:
“Are there special benefits for members of government and their friends? Is this what Saint Lucians deserve? Only Allen Chastanet and his Cabinet of collaborators would even consider such absurdity? This idea of building a field hospital to accommodate the St Jude Hospital has to be rejected with all the contempt that it deserves.
“It is obvious that the government has dug a hole for itself… so now it is scrambling from one irrational proposal to another absurd proposal. Our hospitals and healthcare do not seem to be a priority for this government.
“It is clear… the UWP Cabinet continues to disregard with callous contempt the constant calls by the people of Saint Lucia to give more priority to healthcare concerns. The people of Saint Lucia cannot be allowed to continue suffering and dying while Allen Chastanet refuses to pay attention to their health concerns.”