DR Andrew Wheatley, the chairman of the joint select committee which considered the proposal to establish Portmore as Jamaica's 15th parish, says the Government is still committed to building a public hospital there.
Dr Wheatley's reassurance comes on the heels of Monday's Jamaica Observer report that private investors are set to open Portmore's first hospital by October 2022, pending approval from the Ministry of Health and Wellness.
Carivia General Hospital, located at Cookson Pen, Braeton, is a $2-billion investment which will feature 23 private beds, six of which will be in high-dependency units. It will boast three operating theatres, a full radiology suite, 24-hour accident and emergency department, a pharmacy, as well as consultation rooms for various medical and surgical specialities.
Dr Alfred Dawes, medical chief of staff and director of Carivia General, had told the Observer that the vision is to bring first world private care within the reach, both geographically and financially, of the average Jamaican, not just in Portmore.
Reacting to the story, Dr Wheatley on Monday told the Observer he welcomes investments of this nature, especially in health care, and underscored that the Government's promise of a public hospital in Portmore is still on the table.
"Notwithstanding my support for this private entity, the Government is still committed and will be building out a public hospital for the parish of Portmore. The prime minister gave that commitment and it is still in train. It will be built... it will be built, and plans are far advanced to have that done. That was a commitment that was made and that was a commitment that will be kept. It is being sorted out as we speak. The hospital for Portmore — the public hospital for Portmore — will be built to offer service for the general public," Dr Wheatley said.
"This private facility only complements the public facility that will be built. Just like you have in other parishes, for example, in Kingston and St Andrew you have Andrews Memorial, which is a private facility that complements the government services; you have Medical Associates and other such facilities offering private services; and even the Tony Thwaites Wing at the University Hospital of the West Indies offering private services and specialised services. It is a welcomed move where you see private investors believing that the environment is such where it is conducive for investment — and no better investment, I believe, than in health care and I fully endorse it," Dr Wheatley added.
For years there has been talk of building a public hospital in Portmore, with lands in Newlands being earmarked for the development. Dr Wheatley shared that he was part of those negotiations.
"I was a representative in Portmore for some time; my early sojourn in representational politics was as part of the municipality of Portmore. I was even part of a visit to Kansas to look at the private hospital system they have operating there," Wheatley said.
"It was being proposed for the establishment of such a facility in my division then — the Naggo Head Division — right in the vicinity of Newlands. That was supposed to be a private entity coming out of investors in Cayman who owned the property — I don't know if they still own the property — looking to build out a health tourism facility, a private facility, in Portmore," he shared.
Member of Parliament for St Catherine Southern Fitz Jackson had also welcomed the private hospital and pointed to the investment difficulties, some years ago.
"There has been an initiative going back over 10 years or more where former Mayor George Lee led the facilitation as mayor, at the time, with some investors to build a private hospital there. The community of Portmore has been calling out for it for some time. Regrettably, that initiative fell through because of some investment difficulties and there continued the vacuum for hospital health services to be provided," Jackson had told the Observer.
Further, Dr Wheatley said he was happy to know that Dr Dawes and his team from Carivia were seeking the necessary approval to operate as a private facility offering services to people in Portmore, and specialised services outside Jamaica.
"The health of the nation is the future of the nation. The healthier our population is, the more productive it is. I believe we have the medical expertise here in Jamaica that can attract persons for health tourism and create other spin-offs," he said.
Wheatley praised the investors for their vision and welcomed like-minded initiatives.
"It speaks to Portmore being an ideal location, a new parish being an ideal location for new investment," he said.