Ulster Spring residents want hospital operational
While they are still unclear as to what level of service will be offered when the facility is restored and reopened, residents of Ulster Spring and adjoining communities in southern Trelawny are desperate to have their hospital, which was once a top-flight health facility, back in service.
Since the hospital, which formerly serviced communities such as Albert Town, Alps, Freemans Hall and Sawyers, was scaled down in the mid-1990s and subsequently closed, getting emergency medical attention has been a nightmare for residents.
"At my age, such a facility in this area is very important to me," said 84-year-old James Dunbar, a business operator and senior citizen of German Town, near Ulster Spring. "However, I still want to hear definitively what type of facility we will be getting, because, at one point, I was hearing that it will be a full hospital; then, the next time, is something else."
"If I had any say in the decision-making, the hospital would be up and running now, because to travel almost 28 miles to Falmouth (north Trelawny), or 30 miles to Spaldings (Manchester) is very costly and life-threatening," continued Dunbar.
For several decades, the Ulster Spring Hospital provided emergency, trauma and in-patient care to residents from that section of the island which is renowned for yam farming.
"I was born in 1931, and when I was born, the hospital was already here," said Avis Frater, who was employed at the hospital for more than 28 years. "Prior to being scaled down in the 1990s, the hospital was an integral part of life in this community," Dunbar said.
At the time, the hospital was scaled down, the promise was that it would become a comprehensive and more efficient primary-care facility, to complement the Falmouth and Spaldings hospitals. However, the plans never materialised and, over time, the facility's infrastructure steadily deteriorated.
According to Dr Pauline Foster, councillor for the Ulster Spring division in the Trelawny Parish Council, the restoration of the facility would be ideal at this time as the demand on the present clinic, which is being offered at the old facility, is overwhelming.
"Anytime the clinic opens, it is overburdened, because there are literally hundreds of residents coming for health care, and, with only two doctors, some have to be turned away," said Dr Foster.
"The hope of the people of south Trelawny is that we get a full-fledged hospital again, but I am not sure that will happen. A centre of excellence, which is a level below that of a hospital, operating 24 hours, would be a step in the right direction," the councillor added.
In December 2012, Health Minister Dr Fenton Ferguson gave an assurance that efforts are under way to facilitate full resumption of operations and services at the Ulster Spring facility. However, after a meeting with the New Jersey-based Friends of Ulster Spring International Incorporated (FUSII) - a group comprising former residents of the area - Government began exploring the idea of the creation of a centre of excellence, making a J$60-million commitment to the process.
The FUSII group has been instrumental in generating support for the facility, and has recently shipped medical supplies, valued at approximately US$10,000, to be used in the facility. The supplies include beds, wheelchairs, walkers, canes, refrigerators, microwaves, and a compressor, among other supplies. They are also working in conjunction with the Jamaicans Abroad Helping Jamaicans at Home Foundation in outreach efforts.
Even recently, a three-year-old child from the neighbouring district got injured at school and had to be taken to Falmouth almost 30 miles away, said Ulster Spring- based business operator Delrose Davy, in lamenting the absence of the hospital.
"There are a lot of babymothers that have given birth en route to Falmouth or Spaldings," continued Davy, noting that the ambulance driver sometimes has to perform midwife duties. "So, to get back our hospital would be a joy to the people. We are ready to take care of it," she said.