Still $5b, says Tufton
Western children’s hospital price tag remains the same despite delay
Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton gestures while addressing journalists in this file photo. (Photo: Michael Gordon)

MOUNT SALEM, St James — Despite a two-year pause on construction, the price tag for the Western Children and Adolescents Hospital is expected to remain at $5.7 billion, according to health minister Dr Christopher Tufton.

"The facility is estimated to cost some $5 billion Jamaican dollars, and the overwhelming bulk of that amount is being provided through grant funding by the Chinese Government," Tufton told a gathering during a ceremony to mark the resumption of work on the hospital on Friday.

"The Jamaican Government is providing some funding this year; for example, we allocated $100 million as part of preparing the ground and doing a few other technical things. But it is substantially a grant-funded project based on the friendship and the commitment of building that friendship between China and Jamaica," Tufton added.

Ground was broken for the six-floor, 220-bed hospital on the compound of the Cornwall Regional Hospital in Mount Salem on October 23, 2019. It was scheduled for completion two years later. However, work was halted in 2020 due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The health minister's assurance that its price tag remains the same is in stark contrast to the delay-plagued Cornwall Regional Hospital (CRH) whose cost has ballooned as repair work drags on.

According to Dr Tufton, the children's hospital will provide specialised care in paediatric medicine, paediatric surgery, adolescent medicine and adolescent surgery. It will have 220 beds on its wards and will also have accommodations for medical staff.

"That's a very positive thing because housing, as you know, is always a big challenge and is a great motivator for employees. So, the building will actually have staff accommodation," said Tufton.

When completed in another two years, the facility is expected to be the largest of its kind in the Caribbean, capable of providing services to Jamaica's regional neighbours.

"Combined with [CRH] and the Bustamante Hospital for Children, it will provide significant added capacity. It certainly will take some of the strain off the Bustamante Hospital for Children even though that [takes patients] up to 12 years old. This facility will be up to 18 years old, to add the adolescent component," Dr Tufton explained.

He anticipates that work will move quickly.

"I believe we're going to see an eight-storey building in a very, very short space of time. I came here two weeks ago and then, all of those steel wasn't in the ground as we are seeing now, so it's obvious that the work is going at lightning speed. And we appreciate that," he added.

Speaking during the same event, Ambassador of the People's Republic of China Chen Daojiang gave his assurance that the contractor will deliver.

"I firmly believe that… Nantong No 2 Construction Company will try its best with the highest quality and efficiency to build a new, modern hospital for our Jamaican friends. I believe it will become a new landmark of Montego Bay and a new symbol of China-Jamaica friendship. I believe in this modern and digital hospital, children in Jamaica, even in the Caribbean, will enjoy advanced medical care and service," stated Daojiang.

Once the facility is completed, Tufton said, maintenance will be crucial.

"Part of the difficulty that we have had, and indeed the debacle of Cornwall, is lack of maintenance and it manifesting itself in all our public health institutions. You build them and they get run down and we don't invest sufficiently in preventative maintenance. We're learning the lessons the hard way from this. So this facility, as I've said to them and they have agreed, once it is built there will be a [maintenance] team here. We're gonna have to do the same with Cornwall, we're gonna have to do the same with Spanish, and it's going to have to be part of our culture that we invest more in the maintenance of our buildings," the minister stated.

BY ANTHONY LEWIS Observer writer

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