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(SNO) – Reconstruction works are expected to resume at the new St. Jude Hospital site following a major announcement by a government minister on the future of the project.
Minister for Economic Development, Housing, Urban Renewal, Transport and Civil Aviation, Guy Joseph, disclosed at a press briefing on Monday, May 28, 2018 that the St. Jude Hospital reconstruction project will remain in Augier, Vieux Fort.
“While I can give very preliminary information on it, whatever is going to happen with St. Jude, is going to happen on the existing site,” he told reporters.
The authorities had stopped work on the project after according to them, initial technical audits revealed multiple flaws in the construction works which is 50 percent complete and alleged cost overruns amounting to millions of dollars.
While work ceased, the authorities mulled, as well as announced plans to re-purpose the incomplete structure and build a new hospital at a new location. However, political opponents and medical professionals – particularly the St. Lucia Medical and Dental Association (SLMDA)- vehemently opposed those plans.
The main opposition party, with the assistance of supporters, spearheaded a series of marches and public meetings against announcements to relocate the hospital under a new construction project.
Following mounting public pressure, Joseph had told the media a few weeks ago that government will make an announcement on the final plans for the hospital within 30 days.
At Monday’s usual pre-Cabinet press briefing, Joseph disclosed that Cabinet has received a final report on the technical audit of the reconstruction project as well as a guiding document that details plans for the future of the project.
Joseph said Cabinet members are now reviewing these documents and following deliberations, a final decision on the project will be announced.
He said: “We have resolved that the problems that are going to be addressed will be addressed, using the existing St. Jude site. We have also agreed that based on the information available, now that we have done all of the assessment, in terms of the design break for the hospital, the… drawings that are there, that a few of the buildings on the St. Jude site can be used and greater details will be given on which components of the buildings can be used to be incorporated in the new plan for St. Jude moving forward.”
Joseph said though government entertained the idea of a new hospital at a new location, they never intended to abandon the St. Jude site.
He explained: “What is clear is that we are going to use the existing site, that some of the buildings will be used, others that cannot be used for the actual layout of the hospital, we will look at other means or other purposes for which they can be used. I think that should help allay some of the concerns of people that substantial amounts of contributions had been given by corporate citizens, by St Lucians and a number of other interests both in and out of St Lucia towards this hospital project. And that is one of the reasons why, as a government, we went back and forth a lot of times to make a determination because it was never our intention to abandon the St Jude site.”
The SLMDA said in a statement on Tuesday that Joseph’s announcement has vindicated its members.
The association said the remainder of the hospital can be completed in a maximum of 10 months and called on the government to disclose publicly a time and cost-specific schedule. The association also said the final technical audit report should be made public and the start date for commencement of works on the East Wing be given immediate effect.
The SLMDA said: “The announcement by Minister Guy Joseph on 28.05.2018, represents a vindication of the message delivered by the SLMDA on behalf of its members, health workers and the public. It puts in context, the verbal abuse that my Executive and I have been subjected to by party sympathizers of the government and in particular, the very Minister who spoke on behalf of the government. The degree of irresponsible, self-inflicted damage he has caused his government and the nation both here and abroad, spewing defamatory slurs at a body of noble professionals for defending good public conscience, is unimaginable and unthinkable and is simply beyond the pale.
“And so, while we can acknowledge that the government has finally conceded to doing the right thing, as is this small step in the right direction, they must remember that the duty of the SLMDA still remains as guardians of the public trust. We will continue to be vigilant and vocal, and advocate No to PPP/Joint Ventures at the OKEU and SJH, and especially where it is shrouded in a lack of transparency and clear benefits to the public.”
The St. Jude Hospital was destroyed by fire in 2009 which also resulted in multiple deaths. Since then the hospital has been housed at the deteriorating George Odlum Stadium.