Fri | Sep 22, 2017

Bellevue leaking millions - Hospital paying the NWC for water used by residents of neighbouring community

Published:Sunday | October 2, 2016 | 10:00 AMNadine Wilson-Harris
The entrance to the Bellevue Hospital in East Kingston.

The Bellevue Hospital has paid more than $31 million in water bills since the start of the year, but it appears that a large portion of the commodity has gone to persons not associated with the medical facility.

A Sunday Gleaner probe has confirmed that the hospital is also paying for water used by residents of a nearby community.

The National Water Commission (NWC) bills Bellevue approximately $6 million each month, despite the drastic reduction in its patient population over the last few years.

One year ago, the hospital was in arrears to the NWC to the tune of $198 million, but efforts have since been made to clear this debt.

Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton, last week, said he was aware of the high water bills being paid by Bellevue and he has since ordered an audit to determine the reason.

 

CAUSES

 

"Some of it is leakage, because of leaking pipes. We do have that systematic problem, but I think some of it, too, is because others are enjoying the facility," Tufton told The Sunday Gleaner.

"I intend to ask the auditor general to look into the matter as well as the NWC, and have the board of the hospital find a way to correct it," added Tufton.

Documents obtained by The Sunday Gleaner suggest that high water usage at the Kingston-based hospital has been a recurring problem and was brought to the attention of officials at the NWC from as early as three years ago.

In a memo dated April 29, 2013, an employee of the utility company noted that one of Bellevue's water meters was connected to an adjoining housing scheme.

A suggested plan of action to remedy the problem, at the time, included disconnecting the water meter and providing paid water access to the community. However, there is no evidence to suggest that anything has been done to remedy the problem.

A subsequent letter from NWC in 2015, which was addressed to the hospital's management, blamed the problem on leaking pipes on the hospital property.

"With regard to the excessive charges incurred on Bellevue Hospital, which was as a result of leaks discovered on the property, the National Water Commission will not be in a position to waive such charges which are deemed to be accurately computed and at the prescribed commercial rate," read a section of a letter, which was sent by one of NWC's vice-presidents to the chief executive officer of Bellevue Hospital, Latoya McFarlene, in August 2015.

At least $24 million was allocated in the 2015-2016 fiscal budget by the Ministry of Finance to hire a contractor to replace the underground pipes to address possible leakage. However, the work is yet to be commissioned.

nadine.wilson@gleanerjm.com