Thu | Jan 17, 2019

Editorial | Close Cornwall Regional Hospital for rehabilitation

Published:Friday | March 9, 2018 | 12:00 AM

Cornwall Regional Hospital (CRH) in Montego Bay had not only the symptoms, but also the diagnosis of a sick building, which is not a statement of it being a facility where ill people are housed and treated. The building carries a malady that makes people sick.

Yet, CRH is not being afforded the best opportunity for full recovery in the shortest possible time. Its treatment is piecemeal rather than fulsome. So it continues to spread its contagion among patients, as was confirmed this week by the health minister, Christopher Tufton. Perhaps it's time for a radically new approach to the problem. Cornwall Regional, a 400-bed facility, is what the Jamaican authorities refer to as a Type A hospital in that it provides a range of specialist services not available elsewhere in western Jamaica. It is of critical importance to that part of the island.

But a year ago, things began to be turned on their head. The hospital's caregivers found that they, too, were in need of treatment. Nurses, especially, began to be hit by a mystery illness, some of whose symptoms were nausea, itching of the skin, and, in some cases, apparently, rashes. The problem, initially, was confined to three floors of the 10-floor facility but soon spread to others.


Fibreglass contamination


It turned out that the problem lay with fibreglass contaminants in an old, disused ventilation system, which grew worse with an attempt to clean the air shafts. More fibreglass particles were dislodged and regularly reached the atmosphere. The authorities scrambled to relocate patients and services to elsewhere in the building, as well as to other hospitals, trying hard to keep one step ahead of the pursuing contagion.

In the meantime, the Government commenced a J$2-billion refurbishing of the hospital, including deep cleaning and refurbishing some of the air ducts. But Health Minister Tufton was adamant about not closing the facility - for medical reasons, he insisted, "I have assessed the situation. Shutting down the hospital will mean people will die from lack of care and attention is this part of the country," he said.

We suspect that there are political motivations, too, behind that decision - a fear that politicians would seek to capitalise on the inevitable fallouts and inconveniences that would necessarily come with a closure. By Dr Tufton's timeline, the refurbishing work at CRH was to have been completed and the facility ready for repopulation by the end of this month. But recently, nurses and doctors at the facility began falling sick again, becoming worse the longer they stayed in the building. This time, apparently, the culprit was mould in the building.

"What was a ventilation source for pollution morphed into an examination of moisture in the walls because of a leaking roof," causing the water, because of the design of the building, to run within the walls. Leaking pipes embedded in the walls also exacerbated the problem. So, again, the hospital has been relocating patients.

As Calvin Brown, the former chairman of the Western Regional Health Authority, explained last year, a major part of CRH's problem is that the hospital, opened in 1974, has never had enough money for proper maintenance. Its ventilation system, he said, began to fail in the latter part of the '70s into the 1980s and completely failed in the 1990s. As a result, there have been a series of workarounds, rather than overhaul/replacement of the old system. Other things, too, have not been properly maintained.

Clearly, the existing piecemeal approach to fixing Cornwall Regional can't continue. The Government can, and must, find the budget to get it done. The facility should be closed for a time, while the work is done.

Dr Tufton just has to give the people of western Jamaica the facts. They are not stupid. They will extract a price from anyone who plays politics with this matter. And we would help them.