Community self-help boosts Port Sea Health Centre

South Central Bureau

Monday, May 21, 2018

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PORT SEA, St Elizabeth — From behind the counter of his grocery shop and bar, senior citizen Leonard Miller watched the happenings across the road with interest.

Soon his memories came alive in words. “That piece of land was donated by the mother-in-law of BB Coke, who was Member of Parliament,” said Miller.

The land he spoke of is the site of the Port Sea Health Centre which, in early May, was being formally reopened in a ribbon -cutting ceremony, following renovation and expansion.

Miller was soon joined by other residents who recalled not only the political representation of BB Coke in the 1950s and 60s, but of Derrick Rochester who was Member of Parliament for St Elizabeth South Eastern in the 70s, 80s and early 90s.

The people told colourful stories such as that the community where the Port Sea Health Centre is located is not really Port Sea.

They start to call here Port Sea after the health centre, but Port Sea really down the road,” explained one resident.

Most of all, though, they spoke of their pride as a community in forming a health committee decades ago which has played a critical role in expanding and maintaining the health centre. Miller told how he was a pioneering member of the very first health committee, donating money to help the health facility.

Leroy Whitely, current president of the Port Sea Health Committee, recalled that at one stage in the early 2000s there was a move to close down the health centre – bitterly and successfully resisted by residents.

All seemed lost in 2004 when Hurricane Ivan removed the roof, but again the residents acted.

“We wrote to [Jamaica] Bauxite Institute and they gave us funds to put on the roof. we joined hands in fund raising and got support from Alpart Community Council, [and] they helped us to refurbish and paint, and put in equipment,” he said.

Carmen Ebanks told how “every Labour Day” the Port Sea Health Committee actively supports the health centre, “even if is just painting”.

They were equally proud of their latest contribution in helping to “stretch” a $5-million donation from the National Health Fund (NHF) to add three treatment rooms and other accessories, including a ramp for the disabled as well as general renovation.

An admiring Health Minister Chris Tufton told the Jamaica Observer that after being approach from current Member of Parliament Frank Witter, it was found that the project was likely to cost more than the $5 milion allocated, so the authorities “engaged the community and really stretched the dollar to get a bigger space than was originally budgeted for…”

Sean Brissett, parish manager of the St Elizabeth Health Service described the expansion and renovation project as “a community effort and a collaborative kind of framework” which he felt should be promoted as a model, because it “provides security for the assets and people recognise the value because they are part of it”.

According to Witter, “when we looked at the amount of money ($5 million allocation) we realised if we had contracted it out we would not have been able to complete the amount of work that we got done. We, through the local health committee, had a meeting with community … they decided to come on board and they worked hard and this is the result of it today…”

Currently the health centre, which caters for more than 4,000 people in Port Sea and surrounding communities, provides services including: curative, maternal & child health, environmental health, health promotion, mental health, antenatal, postnatal, child health, immunisation, disease control, and nutrition.

Residents told the Observer that they are now aiming for restoration of a storm-damaged nurse's cottage which would allow a nurse to again live on the premises, as well as work in the community.

To dramatise its importance, Miller told how many years ago he nearly lost his young son to an asthma attack late at night. “If it wasn't for the nurse, he would have died,” he said.

It's a request that Witter says he will take on board as he looks to the future, even while recognising the many competing priorities.

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