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Portmore's hospital - Family-owned medical facility fills the breach

BY KIMONE THOMPSON Features editor — Sunday thompsonk@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, August 26, 2012    

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THE sign says Portmore Hospital Complex, but it's not what you think.

It's not the long-promised facility first announced by the municipality during George Lee's first term as mayor. It's a private complex owned and operated by medical entrepreneur Dr Devon Osbourne and his wife Dr Karen Asher.

Still, from all indications, it offers Portmore residents the convenience of accessing a range of specialised medical and surgical treatments in their backyard.

"It's not a complete hospital in the true sense of the word," Dr Osbourne admits to the Jamaica Observer, "but we're offering all of the medical and surgical specialities... We have a full team of well-qualified, experienced surgeons and medical specialists and, except for surgeries which will require extended hospital stay, we will be offering it at the Portmore Hospital Complex.

As such, he said the complex will eliminate the need for persons to journey to Kingston and Spanish Town to access medical attention and elective surgeries.

"It can be had right here," he said.

"Presently, we do all your lumps and bumps, your hernias, your cholecystectomyies (removal of gall bladder), which are the bread and butter, or the more frequent surgical operations," Osbourne, a surgeon and urologist, added.

There are plans, he said, to expand the services to included hysterectomies and other common procedures.

"We offer the convenience of same-day surgery so it will be easier for you to come for follow-up visits, either at the hospital complex or the Portmore Health Care Complex.

Located at the former Peart's Medical Complex next door to MegaMart in the town centre, the facility is an outgrowth of Portmore Health Care Medical and Surgical Complex in Independence City and is, in Dr Osbourne's own words, a precursor to the planned Portmore hospital slated to begin construction sometime this year.

"We didn't know if the people of Portmore could wait that long, so when the premises became available, we decided that the time was opportune," he said.

Speaking with the Sunday Observer last week, Portmore Mayor George Lee said plans for the much-talked-about hospital have not been shelved.

"It's still coming," he said in a telephone interview. "I spoke with the persons up to today and they are putting the plans in place."

Lee said the principals for the project had previously submitted a plan to the town planning authorities, but it had to be revised. He expects the new document, which he said will be more extensive, "sometime in September". The facility is to be located on the former Cable & Wireless lands across from the Garveymeade community. In addition to a modern hospital, it will feature a university, a shopping plaza, and housing solutions, the mayor said.

Asked whether the private hospital impacted negatively on the Government's plans, Lee, who took over leadership of the Portmore Municipal Council from the Jamaica Labour Party's Keith Hinds earlier this year, said the municipality had room for more than one hospital.

"We have close to 500,000 people in Portmore, so we can have more than one hospital. We welcome private people or whatever company wants to set up hospitals in Portmore," he said.

Dr Osbourne has had a presence in the municipality from 1988, the year Hurricane Gilbert ravaged the island. Then, he offered mainly general practitioner services from a single house. Over time, that grew to three houses, which have since been joined, and today, in addition to that medical and surgical complex in Independence City and the hospital, he operates complexes in St Ann and Clarendon. And, according to him, if the opportunity for further expansion presents itself, he'll be game.

The seed was sown when, while studying in England, a colleague asked Dr Osbourne what his contribution to health care in Jamaica would be.

"We were fortunate to be exposed to excellent health care in Cuba, and were fortunate enough to go to Edinburgh...and I always wanted to improve medical services in Jamaica," he said.

"We started out as an evening centre at (the Independence City) location and eventually went on to have a full day service from 7:00 am until 11:00 pm.

"We have grown with the community and are pretty much aware of the medical needs of the community and it was always part of our plan that we would try to give a more comprehensive sort of medical care to the Portmore region. By that I mean not only providing GP (General Practicioner) services, but to run the full gamut of the different specialities, not only surgical specialities.

"We built the Portmore Health Care Complex from joining three houses together. And, apart from the problem of joining three houses, there are limitations as to what you can do because the rooms are designed for domestic use, not for medical purposes, so we thought we needed to get a bigger place if we were to continue to provide the type of service which the people of the Portmore community deserve; so when that building became available we thought we should acquire it," Dr Osbourne said, making reference to the hospital complex.

It is served by "qualified, experienced" staff representing at least 10 different specialist areas.

"With that, we believe we will be able to give all of the services of a small full-fledged hospital would be able to give, which is what Portmore needs. Portmore really needs something that can offer immediate medical care, and if there is anything that requires transfer to a bigger institution then we can stabilise those patients and [then] send them on the bigger institutions; be it Spanish Town, KPH (Kingston Public Hospital) or UHWI (University Hospital of the West Indies)," he said.

Dr Osbourne, a Calabar High School old boy, did his studies in Cuba and in Edinburgh, England. He previously worked at KPH and at Princess Margaret Hospital under the tutelage of Dr Cecil Batchelor. Currently, in addition to his private practice, he does sessions at May Pen Hospital. He and his wife and business partner, Dr Asher, an anaesthetist, hope their two children Malik and Njeri, who are pursuing dental and medical qualifications, respectively, will join the family business.

They don't live in Portmore, but they consider it home, and give back in charitable ways to the community which they credit with the success of the business over the years. Dr Osbourne declined to give figures, but said the practice has remained profitable.

"We are able to pay our staff, we are able to pay our medical doctors who come here, we were able to expand, and we have remained profitable," he said.

"Our success is measured by the fact that we have grown from a one-house medical centre to one that has expanded and is now able to offer a variety of specialities to our community. But I think the most significant measure is our patients; they don't consider this just a medical centre, they consider it their medical centre. This is part of a family. Most persons who come here are usually repeat [patients], like kids who have now grown into adults...," the doctor said.

"We not only offer health care, but we are involved in the community," he added, pointing to an annual black history concert, an annual primary school sporting event, and talks to different groups on health-related subjects.

"It's the community that has made us the success that we are; without the community we would be nothing, so we have to give back to the community."

Dr Osbourne said he will be approaching the Government to see how they can enter into a public/private partnership and accommodate some government patients.

Both Portmore medical facilities, meanwhile, are partially powered by solar energy.

"If you walk throughout the complex you will notice that we only use fluorescent bulbs and we installed the solar panels a little over a year ago. Apart from savings in term of the bills from JPS (Jamaica Public Service), we are reducing our carbon footprint," he said.

The solar technology, he said, provides 10-15 per cent of the practice's monthly electricity requirements.

"It is still significantly skewed towards JPS because our demand would require larger space, but we are planning to plate the roof of the hospital with panels," Dr Osbourne said.

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