Tyrone Reid, Senior Staff Reporter
Employees falling ill in building as Government drags its feet
After a decade of pussy-footing around with the planned relocation of the health ministry's operations from its King Street headquarters, the Government could find itself with a big medical bill as more persons working in the building are developing respiratory illnesses.
The Sunday Gleaner has confirmed that a number of persons who work in the downtown Kingston building have sought treatment for respiratory problems in recent months, continuing a trend that started years ago.
Back in 2002, the then health minister under the People's National Party government, John Junor, told The Gleaner that the ministry was searching for a new building because employees were falling ill at the King Street location.
At that time, Junor also said that there were concerns from staff about the conditions in sections of the building where the poor air circulation resulted in several of them frequently coming down with sinus and other respiratory illnesses.
It was also reported that there was a problem with foul air coming through the vents of the building that was originally a hotel.
With the staff not relocated nine years later, then health minister under a Jamaica Labour Party admini-stration, Rudyard Spencer, committed to accelerating the relocation of the ministry's operations.
SEVERAL FALL ILL
At that time, nearly a dozen employees were stricken by a mysterious illness, which caused Spencer to declare, "We are dying to get out of there".
Late last week, Spencer told The Sunday Gleaner that "a study was done that revealed that the air quality (in the building) was poor".
"This study dates from as far back as 2002 when John Junor was minister," said Spencer in a written response to questions from our news team.
He added: "A number of persons occasionally fell sick and it was due to the poor air quality in the building, which gave rise to my efforts for the ministry's removal from that building.
"In that regard, we looked at a number of buildings and they were not suitable. When I left office, we were pursuing the Central Sorting Office (CSO) as, with some remedial work, it would have been suitable," Spencer revealed.
The former health minister still believes that the ministry should follow through with the plans to relocate. "The fact is, the building is not good for the purpose it currently serves.
According to Spencer, "As it related to the CSO, a number of ministry functionaries looked at it and it was deemed adequate to house the ministry. With a few minor adjustments, this move could be achieved in short order. However, before we could have finalised the arrangements, the new government came into power."
Efforts to get a comment from the current leadership of the health ministry were unsuccessful up to press time.
"Your email has been received and I will get back to you as soon as possible with responses to your questions," the ministry said late last week in response to questions about why its staff is being asked to still work in the building.