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(SNO) – As the main Opposition St. Lucia Labour Party (SLP) and its allies apply pressure on the government to complete St. Jude Hospital and open the Owen King European Union (OKEU) Hospital, Prime Minister Allen Chastanet announced an ambitious timeframe in which he expects major projects earmarked for the healthcare system to materialize.
The prime minister said that government plans to have a White Paper out by late September into October of this year on the structure of the country’s health care with a final agreement by year-end.
With regards to the new health insurance plan for all citizens, now being mooted by his government, Chastanet said he would like to see new regulations drafted and approved in parliament before May or June of next year and implementation of that insurance by end of 2019.
But he warns that large sums of money would be needed in order to bring the country’s health care system into one of quality and profitability that all St. Lucians would be proud of.
He pointed to the cost attached to the opening and operating the OKEU Hospital, a cost he described as “significant” hovering around $70 million.
The prime minister then shed light on the connection between his government and Cayman Health City and other health related entities that showed interest in working with the government regarding the OKEU Hospital.
Noting it was not a secret his administration had been in discussion with Cayman Health City regarding managing the operations of the OKEU Hospital, the prime minister said the health group was the only entity to have proposed a joint venture approach with government.
“Everyone else who has come to the table wants a management contract,” Chastanet said, adding that the group made an initial proposal to government which government is now finalizing the terms and reference of.
The prime minister said that one of the basic proposals made by Cayman Health City was whether OKEU Hospital was going to be a secondary level hospital, meaning that all services at Victoria Hospital to be transferred to the OKEU.
He said that the proposal presented a situation having to do with beds. Victoria Hospital is a 170 bed facility while the OKEU Hospital can hold up to 120 beds. The dilemma is that people are expecting the OKEU Hospital to hold more beds than Victoria Hospital. Government is now faced with what to do with the extra beds coming out of Victoria Hospital if that hospital is closed down.
The prime minister admits that here are options on the table to deal with that scenario. One such option is to transform the Mental Wellness Center into a new Victoria Hospital since the space in that facility is grossly under-utilized. He was quick to note though that this was a preliminary option with no decision being taken.
“The assumption all along is that Victoria will be shut down. How do you shut down Victoria when it is 170 beds and to move to OKEU with 120 beds? But more importantly, the cost of maintaining a bed at OKEU is going to be four or five times more expensive than operating a basic bed at Victoria. So the proposal is to look at OKEU as a tertiary health care system, providing services that currently don’t exist in St. Lucia. The reality is that St. Lucia’s population cannot sustain a tertiary level hospital by itself. The only way St. Lucia can be in a position to afford to have a tertiary level hospital is through medical tourism,” Chastanet said.
But the question remains: Can St. Lucia provide high enough quality tertiary level services at the OKEU Hospital at globally competitive prices that people the world over would come to instead of going elsewhere?
The prime minister admitted that the Cayman group did make a proposal to government of converting the OKEU Hospital into a tertiary level facility.
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