Monday, December 18, 2017

Dust thickens at Tobago hospital

After $735m and 14 years...


STILL WAITING: A view of one wing of the as-yet-unopened wards of the Tobago Regional Hospital in Lambeau. —Photo: KIM BOODRAM

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WELL-APPOINTED: A view of the front of the Tobago Regional Hospital, where the out-patient clinic has been opened to the public. —Photo courtesy

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THE plastic sheets covering rooms of new equipment at the Tobago Regional Hospital are getting a bit dusty.

As the dust thickens, so too does the anxiety of the people waiting to access the services the long-awaited facility has promised to provide.

Opened in part last April by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bisessar, the Lambeau facility, which took $735 million and almost 14 years to complete, now offers only primary care to out-patients.

Six months ago, Persad-Bissessar had appealed to the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) to ensure a timely opening of the rest of the hospital.

Sprawling behind the clinic is a health facility almost resort-like in its location and layout...but ghostly for its lack of use.

When the Sunday Express visited the hospital last Wednesday, orderlies were busy cleaning the exterior of the out-patient area. Walls, pillars and chairs were being scrubbed with disinfectant.

The breezy area was spotless and the sun reflecting off the tiled courtyard in the centre gave the place a cheerful glow.

Across the courtyard, a handful of out-patients waited their turn at the pharmacy, which is also partially functional.

In the clinic waiting area, orderlies and nurses frequently walked around, ensuring patients understood the procedure or going personally to escort some inside.

The patients who spoke were for the most part happy with the services so far.

"The staff is very pleasant," said one elderly woman from Castara.

"And so far I find they getting it right. It is really nice to have a place like this, so pretty and clean. I feel the people of Tobago finally getting a few things they deserve. But plenty people are waiting for the rest of it to open."

Another senior patient was at first positive but called later in the day to complain that "things like they start already", having been told to schedule another appointment because her name could not be found on that day's patient list.

"They get my name wrong and then making me come back," the woman complained, "Like I talk too quick.

"It's two taxis I have to take to get here and that cost money. And I can't move around like before."

Behind the office doors, some members of staff are also anxious to see the entire facility up and running.

With deadlines constantly being pushed back, fears are rising that the hospital could become another Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex—with new equipment going bad before it could be used, decades after being purchased.

"It would be a shame if any part of this remains unused," one staff member said.

"Every part of this facility is needed by the people of Tobago."

Yet the staff is enthusiastic and morale has been lifted by the bright new working conditions the hospital presents.

The staff facilities are spacious and well-appointed—another "chalk and cheese" comparison to the old hospital in Scarborough.

The wards are long and wide and feature large picture windows alongside the 100 beds.

With the facility situated on a rise, the view is spectacular, particularly from the chapel. This room is circular and sits at the end of a finger behind the facility, with a panoramic view.

The wards are not divided into male and female sections but will be informally arranged according to gender based on the number of each in house at the time.

The tradition of visitors sitting on the wards will be controlled and those patients who can leave their beds will see their visitors in one of several waiting areas, furnished with plump chairs and lots of natural light.

The maternity room features baby cots beside the mother's beds, all fitted with the required monitoring equipment and deemed the safest way for mother and child to sleep together.

That section also offers a breast-feeding station and changing room.

Opening each phase of the hospital is not so simple, a staff member explained, as some sections are dependent on others.

"Someone may ask why we can't just open the wards in the meantime, but the wards can't open until the kitchen is functional," the employee said.

"Similarly, the operating theatre can't be opened until the wards are ready. Someone coming out of surgery has to go straight to their ward."

The laboratory is partly functional and a makeshift canteen is in operation.

What's giving the staff some grief right now is having to transport records to and from the Scarborough Hospital.

"The records have been moved here but all the in-patient services are still at the old location," said the staff member.

"So every day, records have to be sent back and forth."

Overall, though, excitement over the new workplace is pervasive.

"We are hoping this will inspire best practice," the staff member said.

"It is true that we have some hiccups and also finding qualified staff can be challenging, but this is an exciting time, to be part of this change."