SEVENTY-two — year-old Donald Dayle has been struggling to find the $400 to travel from his home in Hampton Court, St Thomas to the parish capital Morant Bay every month to see the doctor.
But that struggle is over, as he will now be receiving medical attention at the recently opened Isaac Barrant Centre of Excellence in Hampton Court, which will serve him and hundreds of other residents from 16 communities in the eastern part of the parish as well as neighbouring communities in Portland.
“This is one of the best things they could have ever done for us and I am so grateful,” the senior citizen told the Jamaica Observer North East at a recent ceremony to officially open the facility. Many residents, who recalled when the health centre once operated as a hospital several decades ago, expressed appreciation that the facility would once again be offering some services which they could only previously access at the Princess Margaret Hospital in the capital.
Like Dayle, many of them said the transportation cost from their farming community to Morant Bay to access medical attention was burdensome. His daughter Aldene said it can cost as much as $4,000 to charter a taxi to take sick relatives and friends to the hospital.
“Mi feel so good that here so open. So much so that every night mi pass here mi say ‘Thank you, Jesus’,” she said. Irodel Harrison said the new health centre is well-needed in the parish. Although she doesn’t live in the Hampton Court community, the Port Morant resident said she has been using the facility since the days when it was a hospital.
“This is a sugar-belt community with so many accidents with machete and everybody have to go all the way to Princess Margaret, so this is a good thing,” Harrison said.
Expanded at a cost of $32 million, the type five health centre now boasts an extended waiting area and pharmacy, a well-equipped dental department, a blood lab and upgraded staff accommodation. Minister of Health and member of parliament for eastern St Thomas Dr Fenton Ferguson said the Centre of Excellence is designed to ease the pressure on hospitals as it will offer a wide range of services. The centre will also roll out some specialist services when phase two of the expansion is complete later this financial year.
“Eventually, we will have some rooms but as it is now we don’t want to bring the expectations and hope of the people above and beyond what it was designed to do,” he explained.
Given its history as a hospital, Fenton said the facility has the possibility of evolving into more than a centre of excellence. “For now, it will have an ambulance so you can move patients from there to Princess Margaret Hospital and there is a first class dental clinic which will be good because given the cost of dental care, oftentimes in rural Jamaica even when persons have the need they just don’t have the money to go for private care,” he said.
Ferguson explained that the facility will also offer maternal and childcare services and will be among the first health facilities to use electronic medical records. Like with other public health facilities, the services at the centre will be offered under the no-user fee policy, but he said it is expected to change as time goes by as persons will be required to pay for some diagnostic services. Acting Board Chairman of the Southeast Regional Health Authority Dr Andrei Cooke said the centre will help to streamline health care in the parish.
“With Princess Margaret being about 30 kilometres away, what happens is when you don’t have this sort of thing, 16 communities in St Thomas and a couple communities from Portland end up having to make that commute and then you have a bottleneck at Princess Margaret,” he told the Observer North East. He added that with the presence of the Isaac Barrant facility only the critically ill will be required to go to Princess Margaret Hospital. “Most of the primary health care, curative aspects can be dealt with at the Centre of Excellence.
Dental care, health promotion, health education, maternal and child health, all of those things can be concentrated here, dealt with efficiently and only the critical needs to be taken to the hospital,” he explained. Expansion of service, according to Cooke, is what transforms a health centre into a centre of excellence.
“When you incorporate diagnostic facilities, dental facilities, curative and also health promotion and health education, it takes it a little beyond what would be a typical health centre,” he said. When phase two is complete, Cooke said it is going to offer specialist medical services such as gynaecology, psychiatric care and internal medicine, which will make it just a notch below a hospital. The pharmacy, he said, will be taken over by the National Health Fund in August and this will ensure there is always an ample supply of medication.