Gov't plans major maintenance for health facilities
From left: Marsha Smith, minister of state in the Ministry of Financeand Public Service; Dr Jacquiline Bisasor-McKenzie, chief medicalofficer; and Dr Christopher Tufton, minister of health and wellness,look at the drawings for the upgraded Ocho Rios health Centre,yesterday. (Photo: Jason Tulloch)

HEALTH Minister Dr Christopher Tufton says a review and reform of the maintenance schedule for hospitals will have to be implemented to prevent a recurrence of sick buildings within the public health sector.

His comments come against the backdrop of the ministry's unveiling yesterday of its upcoming infrastructure works and upgraded designs for 13 health facilities islandwide at the Jamaica Pegasus hotel. There is also a new mobile health app to support Jamaicans in managing chronic illnesses.

Upgrades will be done to the Spanish Town, St Ann's Bay, and May Pen hospitals. Ten health centres will also be upgraded. They are Greater Portmore, St Jago Park, Old Harbour, St Ann's Bay, Ocho Rios, Browns Town, May Pen East, May Pen West and Mocho health centres plus the Chapelton Community Hospital. In addition, the Ministry of Health and Wellness (MOHW) completed external upgrade designs for the University Hospital of the West Indies, The Cornwall Regional Hospital and the Western Children and Adolescent Hospital in Montego Bay will also continue their build out. Construction is expected to begin in 2022 and continue into 2024

“There is a plan for public health and I don't care who wants to contradict that. This is evidence of it and I rebuff and reject any assertions otherwise,” Dr Tufton told the Jamaica Observer Press Club.

The remodelling represents the largest health-care infrastructure development since Independence and is being jointly funded by the European Union and Inter-American Development Bank to the tune of US$205.7 and US$236.2 million (J$27.2 and $J31.2 billion). It is expected to build out our public health infrastructure over the next three years, however, a revision is taking place, which will see an increase in expenditure as the Spanish Town infrastructure upgrade is expected to cost more. The MOHW also invested US$8.5 million in a digitised integrated health information system to provide a modern and integrated digital healthcare system.

But, in order to maintain the new infrastructure, which is expected to be completed over the next five years, Dr Tufton said a review and reform of our maintenance schedule for hospital infrastructure is needed.

“There is a huge gap, and Cornwall Regional is the perfect example of how a hospital can go bad if it is ignored and not maintained over time. Cornwall Regional literally collapsed because we were applying a Band-Aid approach to the underlying concerns of improper maintenance or lack of maintenance. It started with air quality issues 10 years ago and we just patched it up, patched it up. The walls were leaking so we got sick-building syndrome as a leaking roof meant saturation of water, mould.

“While these buildings are being built out we are training and retraining for maintenance so we have preventative measures. Beyond that, we are going to have to restructure and reform how we hold people to account. It is not just the clinical management, but the administrative management of the plant. Hopefully, out of this we will get more experienced contractors to not just build, but maintain the plant. The idea is that everything is linked and over time it will get better,” Dr Tufton said.

Further, Dr Tufton said the project, birthed from a 10-year strategic plan for public health, applied a multi-pronged approach to fixing much of the sector's issues.

“When I became minister there were remnants of it; we took it, refined it, and responded to the needs. Part of our issue was lifestyle and NCDs [non-communicable diseases], so the prevention side was critical. We needed policies to support it — front-of-package labelling, tobacco policy, alcohol policy that is developing, sugary drinks in schools, nutritional policy in schools. All of this is connected. The 10-year plan, the policies to support it, and the build out of the plan. Over time we hope to have behaviour change,” he said.

He added: “What we have on display is a number of years of work starting maybe five years ago when we approached the IDB for loan funding to build out a programme that would address the biggest threat that we face as a population, which is lifestyle diseases NCDS. We have gone two of the five years. The last year has been challenging because of COVID. I can't say we are on time because of where we want to be as COVID really created an intervention that disrupted some of the work flows and programmes.”

BY KIMBERLEY HIBBERT Associate editor - news/health

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