Mon | May 29, 2023

Multi-million Sav hospital sewage plant still in limbo

Published:Saturday | March 18, 2023 | 12:50 AMMark Titus/Gleaner Writer

Western Bureau:

Three years after Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton ordered a probe into the multi million dollar sewage improvement project at the Savanna-la-Mar hospital, in Westmoreland, the work appears to have stalled.

The project which was managed by the Scientific Research Council (SRC) was initially projected to cost $113.7 million, but over time, the sum ballooned to approximately $319.2 million, an overrun of more than 180 per cent. This triggered an independent audit in 2019.

According to Eric ‘Busha’ Clarke, chairman of the Western Regional Health Authority (WHRA), the latest projection is that the repairs will cost more than $100 million, so his team is now exploring if a more economical solution can be found to carry out the work.

“Money was budgetted this financial year to effect the repairs, but an internal decision was taken that we needed an expert opinion from someone else because of the volume of money that we have spent already,” Clarke told The Gleaner, “I was concerned that what it was projected to cost to complete the facility could almost buy a new and more modern system.”

According to the renowned businessman, the current system is nearly 15 years old and has never functioned properly, so he felt the smart move would be to use the budgetted amount to build a system that works.

“One option is to put in a new system because that one has been there almost 15 years and the new system would not take up the amount of space that the current one now occupies,” said Clarke, “So, our position is that whatever we do now must work properly and serve the hospital with future capacity.”

The WRHA chairman was unable to say when work would begin, but said the recommendation from the consultant is now being reviewed by the health ministry.

According to stakeholders in the health sector in Westmoreland, the plant has never worked consistently for more than four months since it was commissioned in 2017.

Auditors identified several issues with the distribution box that would eventually clog the system, including the absence of a screen or grinder to properly separate particles greater than two inches. The screen to prevent non-biodegradable solids from passing through the biodigester was also deemed inadequate.

There were also concerns that the biodigester septic tank is failing to separate solids from liquids, while there are high levels of grey water during heavy rainfall.

The auditors also found signs that the structure of the inspection chamber might be deteriorating, while questions were raised as to the quality of material used to build the covers as they were oxidising. Tests also revealed a lack of chlorine even when filled with chlorine tablets. Problems were also found with the design of the reed bed.

The SRC has rejected claims of mismanagement on its part, but blamed hospital staff for wrecking the multimillion-dollar infrastructure by dumping towels, sheets, and other materials down the drain.