Fri | Dec 14, 2018

Jaevion Nelson | Lessons from Cornwall Regional

Published:Saturday | April 14, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Cornwall Regional Hospital in St James.

Over the last two weeks, there has been quite a bit of discussion in traditional and social media about the situation at the Cornwall Regional Hospital. Everyone is seemingly now in a frenzy about the health and well-being of the workers and patients there, as if that is only now a matter of priority/concern. Undoubtedly, as these discussions tend to go, there are also calls for the minister of health, Dr Christopher Tufton, to resign.

I won't use this commentary to partake in such discussions, especially about what should happen to the hospital and those with responsibility for these matters. I'm more interested in a broader discussion, as my optimism is convincing me that the right actions will be taken by our leaders in the best interest of the country.

I believe the problems at Cornwall Regional Hospital are part of a larger issue that we must address as country - poor working conditions and the way in which we treat public facilities across the country.


Sore to the eye


Our tendency, sadly, is to not maintain hospitals, markets and other public facilities and ignore problems whenever they arise. We typically leave them to fester, become a sore to the eye, and a danger to our health until they're at unmanageable crisis proportions that cause everyone to panic.

This is the result of state actors' continued cavalier attitude and neglect of their duties and responsibilities year after year, administration after administration.

The state of our public health facilities across the country is particularly poor, and I am not convinced that this is because we do not have the fiscal space to maintain them. Between 2009 and 2012, for example, the auditor general found there was $6.292 billion "constituting waste, losses, unsupported payments, etc." Reported losses and fraud accounted for nearly $5.4 billion of that amount. Imagine if this could have been invested in Cornwall Regional Hospital and other health facilities?! Sometimes it's a matter of what decision-makers prioritise each year. Proper maintenance does not seem to be one.

I remember when May Pen Hospital in Clarendon was built. There was palpable joy across the parish. We finally had a hospital that looked like somewhere you could go to for care. People like my mother didn't need to travel for hours to Mandeville Hospital, which was seen as a better and safer option than going to May Pen Hospital. Can you imagine how shocked I was when I saw a news report about the state of the hospital?


Awful facilities


While a student at Clarendon College, I visited Chapelton Hospital, which has now been downgraded, and was sickened by the state it was in. A couple years ago, a medical student I know who was doing an internship there complained bitterly about the awful facilities in which they were working. Not much seemed to have changed nearly a decade later. I've heard and seen similar sentiments about other facilities.

Cornwall Regional Hospital shouldn't have reached this avoidable had we paid attention to the warnings and reports. These problems didn't emerge overnight. As chemist and environmental consultant Mario Christie said, "Preventative maintenance was lacking [and] hazardous materials handling practices were poor. The combined effect resulted in poor air quality in some spaces," among other problems.

I sincerely hope the problems will be resolved - that healthcare workers, not limited to doctors and nurses, will have better working conditions soon, and that patients will be able to seek care in a safe space.

I hope, though, that we will use this as a lesson for how important it is to take care of our buildings and ensure that when problems arise, they are dealt with immediately. Let's not have another Cornwall Regional on our hands.

- Jaevion Nelson is a human rights, social and economic justice advocate. Email feedback to and or tweet @jaevionn.