The real solution for healthcare on Grand Bahama is a brand new hospital that includes services not currently provided on the island, according to Health Minister Dr. Duane Sands, who in an interview with Perspective on the weekend detailed areas of progress in the restoration of services at the flood-damaged Rand Memorial Hospital.
Sands travelled to Freeport to assess ongoing repairs to the island’s sole hospital, and to perform surgeries at the Samaritan’s Purse field hospital set up in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian and scheduled for decommissioning as of March 2020.
Since September, Samaritan’s Purse has recorded 7,282 emergency room visits and 635 admissions, according to data provided by Sands.
The health minister is for now keeping with the target date of March 2020 for the completion of the Rand’s main wards, operating room and the administration area.
“There will be a staggered completion of different zones of the hospital,” he explained. “For instance, the psychiatric ward should be completed if not today (Saturday), on Monday.”
Obstetrical care is currently being provided at the privately-owned Sunrise Medical Centre in Freeport and according to Sands, the Rand’s obstetrics ward is likely to be completed some time after March because a contractor has not yet been identified and the scope of work is not yet completed.
Continuing, he advised that, “We will be adding a modular operating theater and recovery room in the area adjacent to the emergency room so we can restore the ability to provide elective surgeries.
“The ability to now centralize procedures as opposed to having to go to Sunrise Medical where obstetrical care is provided will do an awful lot to improve efficiency at the recovering Rand.”
Up until this past weekend, the Rand’s administration section was housed in tents but has now been transferred to the former IAT Immunology Clinic across the street which is under pre-existing lease by the government.
“IAT will house an outpatient clinic, multi-specialty clinic, pediatrics, et cetera, as well as administration,” Sands said.
“So the ability of the PHA (Public Hospitals Authority) to function now with internet and computers means the head has been restored and we will be able to progress at a faster pace.”
Clinics in the eastern Grand Bahama settlements of High Rock, McLean’s Town and Sweeting’s Cay were leveled during Hurricane Dorian and those settlements, according to Sands, are set to receive modular clinics with plans for the build out of a new High Rock Clinic slated for February 2020.
Meantime, the health minister emphasized that for now, the plan will be to consolidate clinics on Grand Bahama as well as on Abaco, and to implement the addition of home care on both islands.
When asked how this consolidation plan will impact the quality of public healthcare in Freeport, which before Dorian was earmarked for a new clinic to relieve pressures placed on the Rand, Sands said, “The real solution for healthcare in Grand Bahama is a brand new Rand Memorial Hospital by whatever name we call it.
“And that will probably have a multi-specialty clinic and a professional building aimed at providing health services for Grand Bahama and the northern Bahamas for the next generation inclusive of services not currently provided like oncology and cardiac care.”
Sands said he wants to make a new hospital for Freeport happen within the next two and a half years.
It’s an ambitious desire to say the least when one considers the considerable level of underfunding the PHA has grappled with for years and continues to grapple with in the current term.
In a 2019/2020 report complied by the PHA on its budget shortfall for the current fiscal year, only $9.6 million has been allocated to the PHA for capital works though $43 million is required for capital works within the nation’s public healthcare system.
Regarding the potential cost of a new hospital, Sands said he has seen estimates “anywhere from $45 million to $150 million” but that such estimates would be “unreasonable” given that the exact plans for the new facility have not yet been determined.
Under the Hawksbill Creek Agreement, responsibilities of the Grand Bahama Port Authority (GBPA) include the provision of medical facilities, but the government has assumed this and much of the city regulator’s other statutory obligations over the years.
We asked Sands if discussions had taken place with GBPA principals on the prospects of a new hospital.
In response, he said, “I am not aware of any [discussions] and certainly since the existence of the Public Hospitals Authority, the Port Authority other than in donating land to PHA has done very little in terms of contributing to that requirement.”