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Doctors caught in illegal housing scheme
Foreign and local doctors attached to various health institutions throughout the country have been illegally occupying housing quarters under the disguise of interns. The French Village apartments, on the compound of the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex (EWMSC), were built as temporary accommodation for students enrolled in the three-year internship programme run by the Ministry of Health.
However, a T&T Guardian investigation unearthed that to date many of the apartments are still being occupied by doctors who completed their internship several years ago. In fact, official tenant records obtained by the T&T Guardian revealed that in one instance an apartment is occupied by the same tenant it was rented to in 1993. Investigations discovered the tenant to be a well-known doctor in the department of medicine attached to the EWMSC.
According to the rental agreement the interns are expected to vacate the apartments when they complete their internship. Investigations, however, revealed several of the doctors who now earn salaries between $22,000 and $28,000 have never moved out. According to financial records the single and two-bedroom apartments were offered to the interns at a minimal monthly rate of $1,400-$1,600, based on the stipend they receive.
In 2010, records show, the rental for the apartments increased to $2,500. Newspaper and online ads suggest that the marker rate for comparable apartments in the area is $4,500-$6,500. The records also show several couples are still continuing to enjoy the low-cost housing benefit intended for interns even though they are now employed at various regional health authorities (RHAs). The doctors are attached to the:
• Mt Hope Women’s Hospital
• Caura Hospital
• Arima Health Facility
• St Joseph Health Centre
• Pharmacy (University of West Indies)
• Radiology (EWMSC)
The apartments in question are Dordogne, Roussillon, Alsace, Vendee, Savoie, Provence and buildings 55 to 59. The apartments are mainly occupied by doctors from Nigeria, India and Cuba. Locals were also found to be occupying the apartments under the same conditions. Records further showed that unit two of the Provence apartments has been rented free of charge since October 2011 based on the contractual agreement.
T&T Guardian understands that only recently a senior official at the EWMSC raised a red flag on doctors renting the apartments was leasing his private property. Investigations, however, revealed that to date the doctor continues to occupy the rental apartment.
Checks at the Land and Building department at the Ministry of Legal Affairs confirmed that several of the doctors are owners of multimillion-dollar properties in Valsayn, Lange Park, Chaguanas, Arima and in San Fernando. Further probing found that several of the doctors run private practices apart from being employed by the RHA.
“For too long these doctors have been allowed to abuse the system,” said a hospital source, “without anyone holding them accountable for their actions. “They are depriving interns of accommodation. Many interns have been forced to find their own accommodation due to these doctors and no action is being taken to remove them from the apartments. “The agreement is at the end of the internship the doctors are supposed to vacate the apartments but this is not happening.”
The matter is engaging the attention of Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan, who on Friday confirmed he had asked to review the tenancy records for the apartments. “The matter was brought to my attention and I asked for a detailed report on all the tenants occupying the French Village apartments,” the minister said.
Told the T&T Guardian had obtained a copy of the report that showed several doctors were still occupying the apartments even after completing their internship, Khan said: “I have not yet completed reading the report fully, but it amazes me how these reports reach the media.” The minister said anyone found to be illegally occupying the apartments would be made to vacate them.
“The apartments were built for interns and are offered at peppercorn rates based on the stipend the interns receive. I do not expect doctors to be occupying these apartments. "Without fear or favour I am saying if any doctor is found to be occupying those apartments they would be served with notices to vacate the apartments immediately. “The apartments were built to accommodate interns, not doctors,” the minister said.