By Caribbean News Global contributor
CASTRIES, St Lucia – Prime Minister Philip J. Pierre is expected to tour the Millennium Heights Medical Complex (MHMC), Victoria Respiratory Hospital and meet with staff on Friday, December 3, according to a press release from the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM). The medical complex compromises the Owen King European Union (OKEU) hospital, the National Mental Wellness Centre, and Turning Point Rehabilitation Centre.
The visit coincides with the announcement of a new board of directors for three years beginning December 2021 – October 2024, chaired by Costello Michel, an accountant by profession. Other members include Dr Kedhma Dorh, general practitioner; Dr Jeanice Stanley, Cardiologist; Dr Kenneth Louisy, general practitioner; Joanna Arthurton Reynolds, urban planner; Dr Lisa Charles, director of clinical services at MHMC; Siobhan James-Alexander, chief executive officer MHMC; a representative of a recognised trade union representing the interests of employees of the medical complex; and a representative of a recognised Consumer Association.
The press release from the OPM, said:
“The OKEU hospital although completed in 2016 was not commissioned until 2019 by the former administration. The move from Victoria hospital to the OKEU hospital which was only precipitated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the need for a respiratory hospital has been plagued by several unresolved administrative issues” further advised that, “One of the board’s first duties will be to address these issues with workers and their unions in the coming months. The delay in the commissioning of OKEU also adversely impacted the warranty of the unused but much needed medical equipment which should have been used to serve the people of Saint Lucia.”
In September, of 2019, the article St Lucia PM concedes to ‘numerous challenges’ with OKEU ‘a nurse’ can solve, alluded to “ The sophistry of challenges and the repeated commitments made to commission the OKEU is akin to replicate ‘criminal neglect’, and ‘unpardonable’ healthcare crisis in Saint Lucia, however, extends a daring expedition of testing human spirit and mental abilities to the utmost.” The CNG article continued … “In the natural sense of prime minister Chastanet’s utterances and actions that differ with undertakings at OKEU, Victoria hospital and SJHRP, mired in political controversy and allegations of corruption, it is seemly a difficult task to admit Saint Lucia’s healthcare is in crisis in accordance with the ineptitude of a Chastanet-led administration, warrants the undertaking of justice to a reprehensible prescription.”
A Saint Lucia Labour Party (SLP) press release, May 30, 2018, reads in part:
“We do not and will not accept the privatization of the operations and management of Owen King EU! We believe that there are enough trained and skilled Saint Lucians who are capable of managing our health care system. Whilst we may need from time to time specialized consultancies and technical assistance, we do not need to engage a foreign entity operating for profit to operate and manage our hospitals. […] I assure the government that this will not be the case we will continue to insist that the Owen King EU hospital not be privatized.”
“We have stated before, and wish to repeat, that we are in favour of Universal Health Care (UHC) with coverage for all Saint Lucians but that we are in favour of UHC managed by a local national institution! If we can have the best National Insurance Scheme in the Caribbean, then we can set up a National Health Fund to finance our health system. We do not support the handing over of our health insurance to private entities whose first objective is to maximize profit. Any profit which is made should be ploughed back into the Saint Lucian managed and operated health fund for reinvestment in our health system.”
The SLP also promised in opposition to review any privatization plans and that Saint Lucians’ can expect to reinstate public status to both hospitals, added: “We shall ensure that the running of OKEU is not privatized and remains under the control and management of the government and people of Saint Lucia,” said political leader, Philip Pierre, last November.
Last November, Pierre also re-emphasised that “a UHC system will be established by the SLP when it gets into office.”
Listen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hrg34Kz2c34
“The crucial element of the UHC system was the creation of a basket of services, including health insurance, which citizens would have been able to access, with the greater part of the cost of these services being borne by the government,” said Pierre. […] “We shall ensure that the running of OKEU is not privatized and remains under the control and management of the government and people of Saint Lucia,” Pierre advised.
Meanwhile, the ministry of health, wellness and elderly affairs of Saint Lucia in a press release dated November 29, geared to “alert the public on the new variant of concern Omicron,” advised the public “to continue strengthening their national protocols that are already in place,” further stated that “based on the wide distribution of this new variant at this early stage travel restrictions from countries with confirmed cases would be less effective,” at November 30, COVID-19 protocols remain unchanged for December and January as Saint Lucia monitors Omicron, subject to revision.
SLP health policy
Pursuant to the MHMC Act No.1 of 2015, the cabinet of ministers appointment of a nine-member board of directors, and the SLP health policy that is “patient-centred, evidence-based, equitable, accessible and affordable“; the main focus of the SLP health policy, per the manifesto, reads:
- There will be no privatization of Saint Lucia’s public health care services, however, a Labour government will incentivize the provision of private health care services not publicly available, in order to enhance the level of health services on island.
- Universal Health Care will be implemented within the first term of a labour party government.
- The St Jude hospital will be reopened within the shortest possible time.
- The OKEU hospital will be adequately resourced with proper emergency services.
- We shall make the employment of all eligible contracted nurses and doctors permanent.
- … priority will be given to creating an environment of healthy lifestyles by encouraging regular exercise and healthy eating to reduce, in particular, the prevalence of non-communicable diseases like hypertension and diabetes. In the adoption of preventative health care measures, the quality and availability of primary health care on island will also be enhanced.
- … we will strengthen the school health programme by establishing a health desk at schools to enable early diagnosis and treatment of health problems being experienced by students, through the use of technology, while ensuring the protection of patient confidentiality.
- … will adopt a proactive approach to health care by establishing structures within the health care system that will allow for the tracking of diagnoses and data from specific labs, in real-time, by geography and demographics, so as to observe trends and design timely preventative measures and treatments as the situation requires.
- … A SLP government will develop stronger environmental and port health services to respond effectively to the threat of the importation of diseases into Saint Lucia. We shall establish quarantine/isolation facilities in the north and south of the island, a medical outpost at all ports of entry and measures for improved hygiene and social distancing mechanisms at ports of entry, schools and public buildings.
- … a percentage of GDP will be committed to the maintenance and improvement of Saint Lucia’s health care system.
- We shall ensure that the health and safety of all consumers are protected through strengthened consumer protection legislation and adequate market surveillance activities.
Facts and fears
It is important to recognize that Saint Lucia’s health system is not as resilient as expected to handle normal capacity issues, equipment, staffing shortages, burnout among healthcare workers and the handling of critical care systems.
Given a fragile health system, now is not the time to relax public health measures, in the presents of mind to handle any new COVID-19 surges, and Omicron. Saint Lucia has open borders and an over-reliance on tourism. In keeping with a fragile system, testing should be ramped-up in a methodically and proactive manner.