'CRH was almost in a coma'
Health minister continues to defend increased cost and delays in repair project
Western Jamaica-based attorney-at-law Clayton Morgan questioning Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton at a town hall meeting about the Cornwall Regional Hospital, last Thursday. (Photo: Horace Hines)

MONTEGO BAY, St James — Minister of Health and Wellness Dr Christopher Tufton has fired black at detractors who have charged that negligence in the handling of rehabilitation work at Cornwall Regional Hospital (CRH) accounted for the cost spiralling to more than $14 billion.

In countering the claims made by critics Tufton argued that prior to his assuming portfolio responsibility for the health sector the problems at Cornwall Regional had been identified but ignored by his predecessors.

"I say this with a lot of sincerity: You know what is negligence? [It is] the way we have treated the Cornwall Regional building over decades. I have correspondence in my possession pre-2007 [when] I was nowhere near the Ministry of Health and Wellness, nor the Administration.

"And again, I'm saying so sincerely: Where the diagnosis of the building took place, the shutting down of the central ventilation system, the replacement with split systems, where the experts said it was inappropriate and it would lead to all manners of issues and nothing was done — it's like having a child and providing no support or guidance for that child and then when they end up in some wayward scenario then you blame the grandparents, for example. We neglected our infrastructure," said Tufton.

Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton (second right) addressing a town hall meeting at the Montego Bay Civic Centre last Thursday. Sharing the stage are (from left) Dr Delroy Fray clinical coordinator, Cornwall Regional Hospital (CRH); Vivian Gordon, project manager, CRH Rehabilitation Programme; and enginerring consultant, Gary Hamilton

"We neglected the Cornwall Regional building over many years. Now,we are trying to fix a problem," added Tufton as he responded to stinging questions from the floor during a town hall meeting on the hospital last week.

The meeting was held under the theme: 'Renew and Restore' at the Montego Bay Civic Centre Thursday evening.

Tufton was joined on the panel by Vivian Gordon, project manager for the CRH rehabilitation programme; Gary Hamilton, senior vice-president of the United States-based engineering and professional services consultancy WSP; and Dr Delroy Fray, clinical coordinator at CRH.

In seeking to get a timeline for the completion of the rehabilitation project, western Jamaica-based attorney-at-law Clayton Morgan charged that negligence was a contributing factor for the protracted work on the project and that this has been driving up the cost.

"My problem is with the date for completion and the cost — and the continuing escalation of the costs — of the project. This project began five years ago. And notwithstanding the fact that it was difficult in the inception of the project to foresee the difficulties, it is my understanding that there was some degree of negligence on the part of the contractors and on the part of your advisers as to the problems which kept coming up each month," said Morgan.

"Now, because of these delays the people of western Jamaica in particular have been put to a great deal of inconvenience. They have had to be going to Noel Holmes in Lucea, to Falmouth, all over the country because of the delays.

"The costs on the taxpayers of this country have been enormous. There seems to be no end to the costs. I would like for Mr Minister to tell us how many more years or months is it going take to complete this project, okay, and what is the cost. I don't understand. It is now exceeding $12 billion," Morgan added.

In response Tufton reiterated he is expecting that by the end of this year, to early next year, occupation of the main building will commence on a phased basis.

"We literally had to shut down the project for a year. Hardly anything was done there while we were trying to engage the procurement process and the consultations to re-engage the experts so we don't make any mistakes — and that accounted for some of the delays. But I want to just provide some hope [as] I think we're a lot more certain now," said Tufton.

"The reality is, with all that neglect the building was almost in a coma. It was a sick building. That's a diagnosis; the experts are here. It would have taken time, so to say why it has taken a little longer than I would hope is because we did not have the local expertise to fully diagnose the problem," added Tufton.

He told the meeting that steps have been taken to prevent similar recurrences at CRH and other public health facilities.

"The long and short of it is that we have to re-scope our maintenance schedule which involves personnel, which involves routine inspection, etc. So I've challenged the team — both the project manager and our quality assurance team — to ensure that that is put into place.

"We have just formed a committee for KPH [Kingston Public Hospital] because I am worried that KPH could end up like Cornwall [Regional]... and you'll hear more about that. And, we are establishing some standards as it relates to Spanish Town Hospital and the other build outs," said Tufton.

BY HORACE HINES Observer writer editorial@jamaicaobserver.com

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