Sun | Jan 17, 2021

‘Laws with bite’ - Tufton launches inspections of uncertified private hospitals

Published:Monday | May 4, 2020 | 12:23 AMJovan Johnson/Senior Staff Reporter
Minister of Health and Wellness Dr Christopher Tufton.
Minister of Health and Wellness Dr Christopher Tufton.

An order for the immediate inspection of all uncertified private hospitals and for the full force of the law to be brought against them are among the early responses of the Holness administration now in mop-up mode following a Sunday Gleaner exposé.

Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton has also disclosed that he was “unaware” that Andrews Memorial Hospital was among the uncertified facilities when his ministry last month brokered an agreement to accommodate non-COVID patients of the Kingston Public Hospital at the Hope Road institution.

A Sunday Gleaner probe uncovered that only four private hospitals are certified to operate under the 86-year-old Nursing Homes Registration Act (NRHA) although a 2016 government document recognises 11 such facilities. The unregistered hospitals include Andrews, which is one of the facilities at the centre of police and administrative probes into the death of 23-year-old Jodian Fearon.

Tufton has put the blame on years of inaction across political administrations in failing to revise outdated legislation and has shouldered some personal responsibility for not operationalising a new framework.

“I’ve asked the Standards and Regulation Division (of the health ministry) to use the Public Health Act to conduct appropriate levels of inspection where necessary. There are a number of privately operated institutions that have not even registered or applied for registration under the NRHA,” Tufton said, declining to give the full list.

Using the Public Health Act is the Government’s cure to getting inspections done since a similar process under the NRHA is only triggered when an institution applies. About seven of 15 private facilities have submitted documentation, Tufton revealed.

The 21-year-old division has not been resourced sufficiently over the years, cramping its effectiveness. Tufton says that will soon change.

The Attorney General’s Department, The Gleaner understands, advised the health ministry in 2010 that private hospitals were regulated by the NRHA, which some operators have, reportedly, frowned upon, arguing that they do not want to associate with a ‘nursing home’ law.

Under the NRHA, operating an unregistered facility is an offence that carries fines of up to $500,000 and prison time not exceeding three months.

Those are not effective deterrence Tufton although insisting that the law must be “absolutely” enforced. “We can inspect, we can highlight, we can expose, but the teeth for punitive responses are limited.”

“While I’ve asked under the Public Health Act for those inspections to take place then, we have to also deal with the fact that the law must bite,” he added, pointing to the need for “comprehensive overhauling” of the regulatory systems.

It has also been revealed that a process to establish new legislation - the Healthcare Facilities Registration Act - to govern private hospitals, among others, started at least five years ago. A technical team in 2017 did some work, but “unfortunately, that proposed legislation is still in the making even though it dates back a few years”, the minister said.

“This is an admission I’m prepared to accept some burden for - the need for fast-tracking and ensuring that that legislation is brought to implementation. I have to make sure that that happens.”

Public Defender Arlene Harrison Henry has described the situation as “disturbing and troubling”.

“It reflects a failure of administrations over the many years - a failure in governance and in having an old piece of legislation still in operation,” she told The Gleaner.

The four certified private hospitals are: Art of Surgery, Winchester Surgical & Medical Institute, Baywest Wellness Hospital, and Hospiten Jamaica Limited.

The managers of Hargreaves Memorial and Medical Associates have expressed surprise that they are not on the list.