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Commentary: Health care in St Lucia
Published on April 3, 2014 Email To Friend    Print Version

By Melanius Alphonse

The Soufriere hospital in Saint Lucia was built in 1946. From humble beginnings the hospital flourished as a gem as time went by, serving the community 24 hours daily.

There were full time doctors, nutritional staff, full time nurses, and ambulance service, x-ray facilities, male and female wards, delivery rooms, obstetrics and gynecology, general practitioners, midwifes, staff quarters, a dispensary and even a morgue.

melanius_alphonse4.jpg
Melanius Alphonse is a management and development consultant. He is an advocate for community development, social justice, economic freedom and equality; the Lucian People’s Movement (LPM) www.lpmstlucia.com critic on youth initiative, infrastructure, economic and business development. He can be reached at malphonse@rogers.com
Located on West Quinlan Street (in the heart of Soufriere), the hospital served the village of Canaries, with a population of 2,044; Soufriere/Fond St Jacques, with a population of 8,472; and the village of Choiseul, with a population of 6,098; totaling 16,614. http://www.citypopulation.de/StLucia.html

The services offered to the tourism sector are unparalleled, with properties such as Jade Mountain, Anse Chastanet, Ladera Resorts, Hummingbird Beach Resort, Stonefield Estate Resort, Sugar Beach Resort, Fond Doux Holiday Plantation, Hotel Chocolat, and Crystals Hotel, to name a few. Other properties include the Still Plantation Resort, La Haut Resort, The Downtown Hotel, Chez Camille, Beacon Restaurant, the yachting sector and the daily influx of day tour visitors to the shores of Soufriere. Last week, the ministry of planning approved the Freedom Bay Development submission of revised designs and construction protocols. This means another high-end property is set for construction within one mile of the heart of Soufriere and the Soufriere hospital.

Despite such and approximately 19 miles of winding terrain to the nearest hospital in the south of the island -- St Jude’s hospital, with its own unique challenges -- or approximately 26.7 miles to Victoria Hospital in the capital city of Castries, the Soufriere hospital has been taken on a socio economic ride of deception. The result of which is a neglected institution, serviced with tongue in cheek by the ministry of health and the political establishment of the day.

The Saint Lucia Labour Party’s (SLP) message to the people of Soufriere and the surrounding community seems simple: Don’t get sick – but if you do get sick or injured get out quick, or decide to meet the creator!

Leading up to the 2011 general election, cosmetic renovations were done, some of which are still ongoing. A reformulation of the hospital layout is ongoing. New exterior gates have been installed in the clinic section for the first time. For years there has not been an obstetrician or gynecologist; therefore, to be born in Soufriere is an occurrence of divine rarity. Clinical and medical services remain a challenge, with limited doctors’ services, limited outpatient services, no x-ray, diagnostic or analytical capabilities in 2014, while the staff of the hospital strives to deliver a quality service.

In the light of such predicaments – though not surprising – policymakers are disorientated. According to a senior official, “The Soufriere Hospital is on the verge of being converted to a polyclinic, similar to the model of operation at the Gros Islet polyclinic, between 08:00am to 12 midnight.”

It is important to note that this is being formulated without any consultation with the people of Soufriere / Fond St Jacques, Canaries, Choiseul and the business community!

The lazy way of thinking has left the Hon. Kenny Anthony administration exposed to seek solace from Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar of Trinidad and Tobago to employ Saint Lucian nurses.

Naturally, the government of Saint Lucia’s shortsightedness has resulted in this quick fix offer and acceptance by the Hon. Kenny Anthony administration that lacks clarity of purpose and direction.

In so doing, the government of Saint Lucia has once again highlighted its inability to create a favourable environment for job creation and its sloppiness with the health of Saint Lucians and visitors to our shores.

Finance minister Hon. Kenny Anthony said, “The offer underscored the importance of the regional integration movement. If there are shortages of skills and labour in one CARICOM country, then the shortage should be resolved by inviting other CARICOM countries to supply those skills.”

The truth of the matter is that Saint Lucia’s fiscal challenges are managed by a finance minister with arcane economics and financial management skills; while the public medical resources are equally in the hands of an incompetent minister of health. These two scenarios have worsened the ability to absorb the volume of highly trained medical professionals that are required in the primary health facilities on the island, namely, St Jude’s hospital in Vieux Fort, Dennery Hospital, the Soufriere hospital, Victoria Hospital; and now that the new hospital in Castries is scheduled to be commissioned, this poses a more complex challenge.

Recently 125 Cuban-trained nurses returned to the island, in addition to annual graduation by the American International Medical University (AIMU) and various tertiary level medical institutions on the island. In addition to resource allocation at the various health facilities, the challenge that already exists is to maintain the current health facilities and now to furnish the new hospital with modern equipment and highly trained human resource in a competitive marketplace.

That’s why it is easier for finance minister Hon. Kenny Anthony and health minister Hon. Alvina Reynolds once again to export Saint Lucian talent, and to facilitate the brain drain as a revival of the indentured servant trade.

This is coming from an SLP administration that is under tremendous pressure to live up to the jobs creation mantra of the 2011 election and has opened up itself to create jobs artificially by any means necessary.

Consider for a minute what Hon. Alvina Reynolds had to say: “This is much to do about nothing… They need to eat; they need bread on the table just like everybody else, and this is a responsibility as minister and the responsibility of the minister of finance.”

Actually, the health minister should be reminded that man does not live by bread alone – Saint Lucians need more than bread on their table.

President of the Saint Lucia Nurses association Lydia Leonce had this to say: “The government had accepted the offer at a time when there is a shortage of local nurses... while the SLNA had no objection to nurses seeking employment overseas, this should not be at the expense of compromising the delivery of health care in Saint Lucia. The government should only encourage local nurses to take up overseas appointments after taking care of its own.”

As long as Saint Lucians continue to receive poor governance and misguided economic management the government of Saint Lucia seems bent on making a calculated decision to trade the human resource of the country in exchange for possible political peace of mind. This is a crying shame because what it really means is that Hon. Kenny Anthony does not have a forward vision in utilizing trained human resources and to establishing a comprehensive health care system in Saint Lucia within the framework of a national plan for development.

It will be a sad day and a regressive circumstance in the development of the west coast should the Soufriere hospital, an institution that has served us well and still has immense potential, to be allowed to stagnate in the twilight – is a crying shame!

The people of Soufriere must stand-up to the authorities and advocate forcefully for better health care facilities, and the restoration of the glory days of the Soufriere hospital, including the implementation of universal health care.

It is very troubling that in former years the Soufriere Hospital withstood the test of time to provide quality care and services and now, in more modern times, the hospital is allowed to stand still.

Soufriere and the west coast of Saint Lucia need a functioning hospital not a polyclinic. Nothing less will suffice!

The failure to restore the Soufriere Hospital will worsen the social economic development of the entire west coast, and continue to impact development adversely.

The people should not have to endure any more hardship and trauma. If this situation continues it will certainly come at a huge cost to the political establishment of the day.
 
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Comments:

Mary Ann Moxon:

You have focused on one of my major fears when visiting St. Lucia (or any Caribbean island for that matter). How well are my favorite places on earth equipped to deal with major illnesses or injuries, for both tourists AND locals?


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