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Decisions, decisions for Helen’s Healthcare

From St Lucia Star

[It’s no] secret that the government has been holding discussions with Cayman Health City,” Prime Minister Chastanet said this week. “Cayman Health City is the only entity that has proposed to do a joint venture with the government.”

But even if the government decides to run with the Cayman Health, there will still be more related decisions to be made.

“Is OK-EU going to be a secondary level hospital,” he went on, “meaning that all the services associated with Victoria Hospital, how we run Victoria, will literally be transferred to OK-EU? The proposal is to look at OK-EU specifically as a tertiary level healthcare system providing services that currently don’t exist in Saint Lucia.”

To transfer secondary level health services to OK-EU would mean relocating staff and patients from VH’s 170-bed facility to the new hospital, which has 50 less beds. The prime minister said: “People are anticipating more secondary beds after Victoria has been closed down,” and the cost of maintaining a bed at OK-EU would be four to five times what’s charged at Victoria Hospital.”

And what if the government chooses the tertiary level healthcare system as suggested in Cayman Health City’s proposal?

The prime minister said: “The reality is that Saint Lucia’s population by itself cannot sustain a tertiary level hospital. The only alternative to have a tertiary level hospital is through medical tourism.”

To do that OK-EU would need to provide high enough tertiary level services at a globally competitive price so people would come to Saint Lucia instead of going to other Caribbean islands or Miami for medical treatment. “If the answer is we don’t believe that’s the case then we have to find a way to cover the additional costs of moving Victoria into OK-EU, an extremely expensive proposition, considering there are no other revenue streams to make up for the additional costs.”

At the naming ceremony of OK-EU, in February 2016, then EU ambassador to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean, Mikael Barford, referencing the operational costs, said:  “In my view, whatever options government chooses should not add a burden or restrict access to secondary health services to those in most need.”

He added: “Public-private partnerships, PPP, and service level agreements have proven successful in other countries to open up the healthcare market and make it attractive also for insurance companies and for tourists.”

Then he emphasized, “However, the quality of the facility, equipment and staff of the Owen King EU hospital holds enormous potential for the hospital to earn considerable income and to be self-sustaining . . . This hospital has a sustainable future.”

But while the government tries to decipher how to incorporate OK-EU into Saint Lucian healthcare, the prime minister insists, “At Victoria we have several options.” Those include the possibility of upgrading the National Mental Wellness Centre to the “new Victoria” by putting in at least 100 new beds.

Another idea is to downgrade Victoria Hospital to a polyclinic and shut down the health centre on Chausee Road in Castries.

The prime minister offered even another: “Why not fix up the healthcare centre on the Chausee and add a police substation next to it because you’ve got the space to be able to do that? The fact is that people like that location.”

Whatever the decision, Chastanet said, “The numbers will help tell a lot of the story. I think that if you were to take a vote of the staff, nobody wants to stay at Victoria . . . It’s never been associated with excellence . . . The plan was always to close down Victoria.”

As for St Jude Hospital, no updates have been provided since works ceased on roofing at the George Odlum Stadium.

On Monday the prime minister said that with the addition of the new mini hospital in Soufriere and the polyclinic in Dennery, “I will be announcing very soon the plans for St Jude’s where we’re proposing to do minimum 70-100 beds . . . [it all] needs to add up to more beds than what we have at Victoria.”

Said the prime minister about the government’s timeline for a health sector overhaul: “It’s a very tight deadline. The goal is that we’re going to have a White Paper out by late September, October.

“We want to be able to have a final agreement on the structure of health care by the end of this year. And we want to have the new regulations drafted and approved in parliament before May/June. And then we want to be able to implement the new health insurance and the new processes within healthcare by the end of 2019.”

IMAGE: Prime Minister Allen Chastanet said on Monday, “The plan was always to close down Victoria.”

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