Editorial | Delay repairs at your peril
As the crisis of the malfunctioning air-conditioning system deepens at the Cornwall Regional Hospital, it is becoming obvious that someone tried to save money and ignored the problem.
But the problem did not go away. Instead, it festered, and now it's full-blown. So, today the country faces a national emergency as the largest health-care facility in the Second City has been crippled. Hospital workers have been sickened and patients cannot be properly cared for.
As is expected, the politicians are throwing darts at each other. Any investigation to determine blame must look at critical correspondence dating from 2007 made available to this newspaper and which articulated the urgency of allocating funds to do the repairs to the air-conditioning unit. The numbers tell the story best. A sum of $43 million was budgeted to design and install a new air-conditioning unit at Cornwall Regional. But $90 million was the amount needed. Because of budgetary constraints, the project was to be undertaken in phases, but even so, it needed an additional $38.6 million.
In its 2006 annual report, the Western Health Authority noted this: "The central air-conditioning system at Cornwall Regional Hospital was now out of service and beyond repair."
Delay in attending to infrastructure problems is a well-worn problem for Jamaica. Bridges, roads, public buildings, such as police stations, courthouses and fire stations, which are in need of repairs or routine maintenance, are ignored and only attended to when there is a crisis.
POTHOLES AND CRATERS
How often have we seen a tiny hole appear on a major roadway and it is ignored for months till it becomes a huge crater? The fact is, public safety is endangered in various communities across the island, and citizens have come to live with the consequences of a neglected and decaying infrastructure. When they can take it no more, they demonstrate in the streets; sometimes they are ignored, and at other times, temporary relief is provided.
Funding constraints are usually the reason given by governments for not allocating funds to undertake various maintenance works. The truth, though, is that political consideration - and not economics - is usually the reason that common-sense decisions are not made.
Fixing the country's ageing infrastructure has to be seen as a priority. Replacing or repairing decrepit buildings and ageing public works is one way to protect members of the public as they go about their business.
In many cases, if routine maintenance had been undertaken, a crisis would have been averted. At this point, the country is in need of a comprehensive infrastructure-modernisation programme. It is something that requires consensus from politicians and all stakeholders for the economic, and environmental benefits flowing from modern infrastructure will exceed the cost. And it cannot wait, for failure to act is courting disaster.
Governments are known to be wasteful and inefficient, and the evidence is clearly seen in the inordinate delays for approvals that dramatically add to the cost of projects.
We need not stress the impact disruptions in health-care treatment can have on a population. One of the Millennium Development Goals indentifies strengthening of service delivery in health as a key strategy. The World Health Organization recommends that increased inputs lead to improved service delivery and enhance access to service.
Cornwall Regional is an example of how Jamaica is failing in the delivery service to its citizens.