Statement by the Vieux Fort Concerned Citizens Coalition for Change (VF4Cs)
The current controversy surrounding the St. Jude Hospital Reconstruction Project (SJHRP) presents an astonishing, incredible, ridiculous, embarrassing and even laughable episode in the implementation of a national project.
This situation has been brought about by the pronouncement of the GOSL that it is considering the demolition of the facility under reconstruction because of what it claims to be structural deficiencies and inadequacies that would compromise its use as a functional, modern hospital.
The GOSL’s action to conduct a technical audit on the SJHRP, ostensibly to determine what had gone wrong after nearly eight years of implementation was justified. However, the ST. JUDE HOSPITAL RECONSTRUCTION PROJECT – INTERIM REPORT, prepared on 9th. January 2017, is now in the public domain.
From reading the report it is clear that the government’s declared intention to demolish the incomplete SJH is painfully at odds with the objectives, findings and recommendations contained in the report. In fact the report recommends (in part) Under Construction Completion (on page 198) that “The construction of the project should not proceed in this fragmented, poorly coordinated manner, without a clear completion strategy” and goes on to add “The strategy for completion will be informed by a Master Plan. Recognising the significant delay in implementation, a design-build approach may be considered as the procurement route to complete. However, the employer requirements must be detailed and clearly articulated”.
The report does not recommend or even suggest the demolition option that the government is bent on pursuing. Curiously, it is after nine months after the issue of the SJHRP Technical Audit – Interim Report that the option of demolition is being considered.
We understand the current Project Manager, was a member of the SJHRP – Technical Audit Team. He has been on the job for over one year (doing what at SJH?) and is only now strangely fronting upstage citing structural deficiencies and inadequacies as the justification flashcards for the government’s plan to demolish SJH. Meanwhile, the government failed to disclose to the public the existence of the SJHRP – Handover Report by Shanta King, the former project manager whose services were hastily terminated by the current administration soon after assuming office on June 6, 2016. The report was for the period ending 14 August 2016. Had it not been for the love of country by some patriotic St. Lucians, these reports would have never seen the light of day.
To grasp at further weak support for its intended action, the government organized two tours of the facility for the press, health personnel and other carefully selected sympathizers. Their post-tour comments refer to low ceiling, absence of exit doors, small doorways and corridors, windows that are not shatter-proof, lack of a main entrance, non-compliance with international standards (?) and the like. But there has not been an independent technical assessment to determine what is absolutely wrong with the reconstructed SJH that irreversibly compromises its prime function as a hospital.
In all this, it is rather curious that the former project manager, the GOSL consultant for the project and the two main contractors who worked on the project have not been invited to tour the facility along with the selected few to provide answers/explanations to what seems out of place or inadequate. Equally important, the main beneficiaries of the reconstructed SJH, the residents of the south, are yet to be given an opportunity to gain a better understanding of the vision plan of SJH and develop a visual appreciation of the stage of completion of the project towards the realization of that plan.
The VF4Cs is, therefore, compelled to ask whether the GOSL has some ulterior and sinister motives for the demolition of St. Jude. Consideration of the option to demolish is insensitive, reckless and wasteful. The action of the GOSL seems to be a calculated exercise in deception. Some people have ventured to suggest that there is a possible link between SJH and the establishment of the DSH Equine Disease Free Zone (EDFZ). This zone is expected to extend 3 -5 miles (Supplementary Agreement) in all directions from the racecourse under construction. SJH lies in the path of the zone. Like the George Odlum Stadium, the Beausejour Agricultural farm, the meat processing plant (or abattoir), the SJH has to go to make way for Chinese influenced, CIP-funded DSH projects. Maybe, the La Resource Secondary School might be the next casualty of the project, just like the two family-owned animal farms located nearby.
The VF4Cs finds the government’s response to the pressing health needs of residents of the south and the staff of SJH to be both callous and alarming. It seems bent on demonstrating a bullheaded attitude about its demolition plan for SJH inspite of the following comments by professionals/knowledgeable persons:
(a) The reconstructed SJH is structurally sound. The “structural deficiencies” and “non-compliance with international standards” can be corrected and that the reconstruction process can be completed within a year using the available funds, materials and unfinished contracted works at the disposal of the Government;
(b) The roof of the George Odlum Stadium is in a deplorable state due to heavy corrosion and faces imminent collapse. It is clearly a hazard to patients, out-patients, visitors and staff of the hospital. Overall, the stadium was not designed to serve as a hospital and to deliver the quality and range of health care services expected from such an institution. SJH, therefore, cannot continue to operate from that location much longer. Furthermore, the temporary location of the hospital in the stadium for so many years has compromised the development of youth and sports both locally and nationally;
(c) The Staff of St. Jude Hospital has petitioned the Prime Minister to do something quickly to get them out of the George Odlum Stadium as it is not fit for patients and workers, has outlived its temporary purpose as a medical institution and should cease to function as such.
(d) The construction of a new hospital will take about 6-8 years from conceptualization to commissioning. It will definitely require substantial funding, the source of which is yet to be identified. Thus the completion of the reconstruction of SJH is a more cost effective than demolishing the structure and building a new facility. Already, over $80 million has been spent on reconstruction of SJH;
(e) Hewanorra International Airport cannot operate without a major, functional hospital in close proximity that can be reached easily in emergency situations. The removal of health and welfare facilities from communities have been known to substantially impair growth and development, public health, safety and social welfare.
Based on the arguments and recommendations above and in an attempt to engage southern-based citizens in an open discussion on the SJHRP, the VF4Cs held a town hall meeting on Wednesday, October 11, 2017. The meeting was very well attended and participation was high. The major recommendations coming out of this meeting were:
(1) A three-man team consisting of an architect, a civil engineer and a quantity surveyor should be appointed to review the status of implementation of the SJHRP and advise on the way forward towards the completion of the project in the shortest possible time;
(2) A phased approach should be used towards the completion and commissioning of the reconstructed SJH. It is to be noted that this is one of the major recommendations made in the SJHRP Technical Audit – Interim Report.
(3) A request should be submitted to Guy Joseph, Minister of Economic Development, Housing, Urban renewal, Transportation and Civil Aviation for a representative group of southern-based citizens to tour the facility so as to gain an appreciation of the status of implementation of the project. (Subsequent to holding the town hall meeting, the Staff of SJH petitioned the Prime Minister requesting that something be done quickly to remove them from the deteriorating conditions at the George Odlum Stadium and that they be given an opportunity to tour the incomplete facility).
(4) With regards to (1) and (2) above the government should give a definite time frame for completion and commissioning of the hospital.
Based on the above comments from health-related personnel and the recommendations coming out of the town hall meeting, and being further enlightened on the SJHRP situation by the comprehensiveness/thoroughness of the SJHRP – Handover Report by the former project manager, the VF4Cs wishes to submit categorically and unequivocally that the completion of the reconstruction and commissioning of SJH should proceed as a matter of urgency based on a phased approach guided by a new management team working within a specified time-frame. The SJHRP must be completed within reasonable time so that southern-based citizens can, once again, readily access top quality and affordable health services.
The VF4Cs is reviewing the above recommendations with the assistance of technical and administrative professionals to ensure their soundness and practicality. Other proposals have been advanced regarding completion and commissioning of the hospital such as conducting a series of consultations with user groups, employing a project completion firm with experience in building hospitals, transferring the completion process to the Ministry of Infrastructure, Ports, Energy and Labour and using the expertise of a team of professionals within the Public Service to do the review, among others.
What the VF4Cs wants the government to do from a consideration of these recommendations is to formulate a programme for the completion and commissioning of the new SJH in the shortest possible time so as to deliver affordable quality healthcare to a significant percentage the citizens of St. Lucia resident in the south of the island.
It is important for the current administration to understand why the institution must remain as the primary health services provider in the south of the island:
(1) SJH is regarded as a national landmark in the delivery of health services. From its opening in 1966 up to the present, the hospital has made a tremendous and incalculable contribution in providing excellent and affordable health care services to citizens of St. Lucia, particularly those based in Vieux-Fort and other southern districts such as Choiseul, Laborie and Micoud.
(2). The hospital has been an impetus for growth and development in the town of Vieux-Fort and its environs, during the past five decades. It provides direct/indirect job opportunities for a large number of residents and offers instant and reliable markets for a variety of local food and other products. It is a major consumer of water, telecommunications and electricity in the south of the island.
(3) The development plan for SJH predates the partial destruction of the facility by fire on September 9, 2009. It was part of the national vision plan which proposed a Master Plan for St. Jude Hospital. At that time the facility consisted of about 11 buildings but the Master Plan envisaged a hospital complex with as many as 25 structures. Under the reconstruction/redevelopment project, 20 such structures exist at various stages of completion. (Hence, the concept of a “phased” approach towards completion and commissioning of the facility under reconstruction is a practically sound one.)
(4) There was a tremendous outpouring of support by southern residents and other St. Lucians, as well as by Non-Saint Lucians, regional and international organizations to restore and upgrade St. Jude Hospital as quickly as possible after it was partially destroyed by the fire of 9th September 2009. That laudable effort included kindergarten students to persons who are differently-abled. The pervading sentiment was “We want to build back our St. Jude”. As indicated in the SJHRP Handover Report by Shanta King (page 10) the size of individual and organizational cash and other contributions was a clear demonstration of that common sentiment in the aftermath of the SJH fire.
(5) The removal of SJH from the south will hasten the introduction of alternative and costly public or private health services that could well be beyond the reach of thousands of residents in the southern part of the island where poverty severity is quite high in some districts especially in Vieux-Fort and Micoud. The cost of accessing health care is skyrocketing way beyond the reach of ordinary working St. Lucians. Thousands of St. Lucians are presently unemployed and it is anybody’s guess how they survive. Any sensitive and sensible government would make the appropriate decisions to ensure that primary and even secondary healthcare services are within the reach of the majority of the population.
(6) Southern-based citizens in particular have been waiting patiently for about eight years for the reconstruction of St. Jude and there is the heightened expectation among them that St. Jude Hospital will soon be fully operational again in its present and original location.
The VF4Cs will not dismiss the possibility that there may have been certain errors of omission in the planning process for the SJHRP. But it wants the current administration to stop the blame game and act responsibly and decisively with respect to addressing the urgent health needs and promoting the well-being of citizens of this country who reside in the south. Demolition or making alternative use of the reconstructed SJH is not part of the equation.
One of the presenters at the above referred town hall meeting aptly quoted Che Guevara as follows: “We cannot be sure of having something to live for unless we are willing to die for it”. The citizens of St. Lucia based in the south are clear on this: There must be no demolition of or alternative use for St. Jude Hospital. ST. JUDE HOSPITAL IS OURS. COMPLETE IT WITHIN THE SHORTEST POSSIBLE TIME-FRAME AT REASONABLE COST AND GIVE IT BACK TO US.
Mr. Prime Minister and Minister of Health & Wellness keep in mind that the nation’s greatest wealth is the good health of its citizens.