The construction of a Virgin Gorda clinic that has been delayed repeatedly is back on track for completion by the end of the year, according to Petrona Davies, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Health and Social Development.
During the recent deliberations of the Standing Finance Committee, Ms. Davies responded to an enquiry from Ninth District Representative Dr. Hubert O’Neal about the timeline for completion of the Nurse Iris O’Neal Medical Centre.
The ministry, she said, is “mobilising a contractor by the middle of [April] and works should be completed by the end of the year,” according to a report on the closed-door SFC deliberations.
Once completed, the two-storey facility in The Valley will replace the existing clinic, and include urgent care facilities; a pharmacy; x-ray and laboratory services; dentistry and physical therapy services; and consultation and examination rooms, Government Information Services announced last year.
The government purchased the land for the clinic in 2009 and released architectural plans in May 2010, but the project was delayed after a Commercial Court ruling dissolved the firm that had completed the initial designs. It took until 2013 to come up with new designs, and in June 2014, Health and Social Development Minister Ronnie Skelton announced an 18-to-24-month timeline for completion.
In March 2015, James Todman Construction Limited was awarded a $6 million contract to build the approximately 20,000-square-foot facility, and broke ground that month.
At the time, Ms. Davies said she expected the project to be completed within 12 months.
But at a House of Assembly meeting in April 2016, Mr. Skelton said project officials were waiting for the building’s steel frame to arrive, which should take six to eight weeks, after which “it’ll go up as quickly as possible.”
Construction resumed with the arrival of the steel in November 2016.
But despite the minister’s announcement of a July 2017 grand opening, plans were later pushed back to September of that year, according to an announcement from GIS.
During the recent SFC proceedings, questions also arose about how to staff the new clinic when it opens, and where the staff will live.
Ms. Davies said the government was pushing to recruit public health nurses, registered nurses and midwives through advertisements on Caribbean-Jobs.com, and that several already had been recruited.
According to Ms. Davies, the ministry had an additional pending list of nurses and it is reaching out to other territories with nursing programmes.
BVI Health Services Authority CEO Paula Chester-Cumberbatch also noted that recruitment for health care professionals continued through an entry-level nursing assistant course offered at H. Lavity Stoutt Community College.
However, she said, the course is not a full baccalaureate programme, meaning the bulk of recruitment efforts would continue to come from abroad.
However, finding them accommodation remained an issue. A building the government purchased to provide accommodation for nurses, located behind the clinic site, may have to be torn down to make way for a new VG airport, according to Ms. Davies.
Consequently, she said, the government did not choose to invest in the building and ministry officials “would need to be guided by the Premier’s Office to see whether those plans [for the airport] were still in place.”
The territory’s post-Hurricane Irma nursing shortage has been addressed previously. At a health stakeholder meeting in January concerning the recovery plan, BVIHSA Director of Nursing Gretchen Hodge-Penn called it “a major, major problem” that was being exacerbated by a lack of housing.
“We don’t have a nursing programme here in Tortola that should feed health services, so we rely on recruiting nurses from around the Caribbean,” she said. “The amount of time it takes to get one nurse is around four months.”
She added that many nurses have declined the job due to the cost of living.
“We don’t have residences to supply to them,” she said. “So why should they leave their country to come to ours?”