Residents of Couva and environs are clamouring for the Couva Children's Hospital to be opened for use as a general hospital, where everyone could access its services.
The nearest health care institutions in the area include the Couva District Health Facility at Camden Road, the Gran Couva Health Facility and the Freeport Health Centre, St Mary's Junction. Couva residents lamented that most emergency cases were sent to either the San Fernando General Hospital (SFGH) or the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex (EWMSC), Mt Hope, which are both miles away.
When asked if his ministry would consider the public's request, Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh refused to comment.
Recently, Deyalsingh had been taken to task for negative comments regarding the hospital. According to Deyalsingh, the PP government had fooled the public into believing that the hospital was for children. He also stated that the facility, which was opened on August 14 by former prime minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar weeks before the September 7 general election, was never to be commissioned this year, as this would necessitate having all its equipment and staff in place.
Deyalsingh said neither the ministry nor the South West Regional Health Authority (SWRHA) had contemplated the commissioning of the facility in August. This, he added, was evident in the minutes of the first meeting of the Couva Children and Adult Hospital Commissioning Oversight Committee on July 8.
Controversy surrounds the $1.5 billion hospital
Just last week, Finance Minister Colm Imbert called on former prime minister and Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar to account for $239 million spent on the hospital by the government, while the facility was being constructed by Shanghai Construction Group through a government-to-government arrangement with China. The lender is the Export Import Bank of China on behalf of China.
Former health minister Dr Fuad Khan, who sought to clear the air on why the government needed to pay $239 million toward the construction of the hospital, said the loan from the Chinese government amounted to 85 percent of the $1.5 billion, even as an estimated $1.9 billion had already been spent on the project. He said the new Government kept quoting the figure of $239 million, but refused to recognise that this was the 15 per cent needed to make up the $1.5 billion. The sum, he said, was used up front to get the project underway, as loans from China can take up to a year to process.
He has accused the new administration of "demonising" the hospital and "holding the public to ransom to score political points."
Khan said the former administration had planned to use overflows of staff from the accident and emergency unit at the SFGH and the Couva Health Facility to assist in staffing the hospital. He noted, too, that there was already equipment at the hospital, as well as the option of accepting assistance from the Chinese government.
According to the Udecott website, the Couva Children's Hospital, which was officially opened by the then prime minister on August 14, was built to offer full-service digital paediatric care, with state-of-the-art clinical services and teaching facilities for medical specialists. Khan, in a cellphone interview last week, said that burn and trauma patients from the nearby Pt Lisas industrial area will also be able to access treatment at the hospital, which houses two three-storey towers containing 80 beds for children and an additional 150 beds catering to adult patients.
Last Thursday, the Sunday Guardian visited the Couva area to get the opinion of its residents, where the majority of the people spoken to said the institution would better serve the public if it catered to all and sundry.
Those who spoke did not want to give their full names. Richardson, from Gran Couva, said while they welcomed a children's hospital, it should be housed in a facility that
would treat adults as well.
Camini, also from Gran Couva, said: "They need to think about the persons who live so far away from the other hospitals that being sick or a medical emergency could mean death. What about people who live in real rural areas in Couva. By the time you get to Sando hospital, you dead."
Nadia from Carapichaima said for too many years residents of the area have faced the challenges of getting to medical facilities far from their homes. The SFGH, she said, was almost always filled.
However, Freeport resident Caroline thinks otherwise. She called for the institution to be opened for the purpose it was intended. She added that the children's unit at the EWMSC was not only too far away, but often overcrowded.
This did not sit well with a passerby, who heard the comment and interjected that the Government should move quickly towards opening the facility for the general public and not just for children. When informed that the hospital would also cater for burn and trauma patients from the Pt Lisas industrial area, Ravi, from La Romaine, said: "That ent good enough, so leave others to suffer or die if we not working in Pt Lisas? I say make it a general hospital for everybody to benefit."
Khan said when the hospital was opened by former prime minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, it was "100 per cent completed, with the adult wing about 90 per cent." As far as infrastructure, Khan said the facility was ready for immediate use. However, he remained adamant that it be utilised for the purpose it was intended.
The country, he said, already had enough general hospitals and specialised care was needed more and more every day. Staff, he said, could be sourced locally, but doctors and nurses should be paid according to the level of work they were expected to do.
"What are they really doing? Is either Government give the people the much-needed Children's Hospital or they keep demonising it to score political points," added Khan.
He said too much effort was being placed on "looking for what is simply not there," while the public was deprived of its use.
When asked if the site was ever earmarked for facilities other than the hospital, Khan said no.
He added that the site adjacent to the hospital was to have offered visitors and relatives accommodation, a space to shop, and the comfort of knowing they were close to their loved ones. That facility, he stated, would have been separate from the original arrangement and the government would have sought to tender it out through public/private partnerships.
Khan noted that the hospital was all part of the then government's medical tourism thrust, aimed at attracting international markets.
"In this thing, you have to think big if you want to attract the attention of the international medical market. This would and can still be seen as a potential 'medical city' where visitors, patients and their family can be at comfort and access the best specialised care for their sick or critical children/patients," he added.
About the facility
The founding philosophy of the Couva Children's Hospital and Multi-training Centre for Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacology and Optometry is to make the most-advanced medical services available to the people of T&T, with special emphasis on the needs of children. Upon completion, the Couva Children's Hospital will be a full-service digital paediatric facility with state-of-the-art clinical services complemented by teaching facilities for medical specialists. The hospital will offer critical medical care to both children and adults with a three-storey bed tower dedicated to paediatrics and women, containing 80 beds, and a second three-storey bed tower dedicated to adult patients, containing 150 beds.
Located just off the Sir Solomon Hochoy Highway, the facility will be easily accessible to patients across the country and equipped with modern, high-end medical equipment to ensure the most progressive medical treatment is made available.
Among the departments and services offered by the Couva Children's Hospital are Diagnostic & Imaging, Surgery, Burn & Plastics Programme, Critical Care, Mother & Child Care, Birthing, Paediatric Outpatient Clinic, Adult Outpatient Clinic, Paediatric Rehabilitation, a pharmacy and laboratory, and a helipad to provide helicopter access for emergency patients.
The multi-training facility will focus on medicine, nursing, pharmacology and optometry, which will be located in an adjacent building to the hospital block connected by a covered pathway.
The facility will be environmentally accommodating and take advantage of the site's natural topography, views and existing tree lines. It will also be self-sufficient, with a single central utility plant and tertiary level waste water treatment plant to ensure reliability. External works within this phase also include 620 parking spaces, roads and landscaping. There will also be a housing facility to serve as a hotel, guesthouse or residence, as well as a shopping mall.