REMARKS BY MINISTER OF HEALTH AND SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT
HONOURABLE RONNIE W. SKELTON
ON THE OCCASION OF THE
NEW PEEBLES HOSPITAL OPENING AND DEDICATION CEREMONY
My fellow Virgin Islanders and friends, I am so pleased and honoured to see so many of you here this morning on this wonderful occasion.
Today is a day to say ‘thank you’ to all the people who brought us to this proud moment of celebration.
It is also a day to look with excitement and expectation towards a healthier and brighter future for these beautiful Virgin Islands.
In their book: Ye Islands of Enchantment written by Dr. Norwell Harrigan and Dr. Pearl Varlack, of blessed memory, Chapter 2 is entitled, ‘The People: Pain and Problems, Prospect and Promise.’
Indeed, the Virgin Islands story is one of tenacity, diligence, faith, courage, and perseverance in the face of adversity; and the ultimate triumph of the human spirit.
As a people, we lay claim to common dreams and aspirations which unite and inspire all of us regardless of political affiliation, race, religion, gender or age.
A world-class health system is one of those aspirations, and for the better part of the last two decades we’ve set our eyes and hearts on the prospect and promise that this vision represents.
As I said in my remarks printed in the Dedication Booklet, over the years several generations and governments have made the building of a new hospital a priority.
My generation renewed that commitment when we took up leadership at the political level.
The building of a new hospital was the foremost item on the agenda of the National Democratic Party when it officially launched in February of 1998 in the Sir Olva Georges Plaza.
On the assumption of office in 2003 we set sail towards this day, we develop plans, we organize financing, we went out to tender and finally a contract for construction works was signed in January 2007. Over the four years that followed, the project encountered some rough seas, and I acknowledge the efforts of the former administration to keep the vessel on course.
But, as someone once said, “It is the set of the sail that decides the goal, and not the storm of life.” On taking office for the second time in 2011, this Government made the completion of the new hospital a central element of its vision for the advancement of the Territory healthcare system.
In true Virgin Islands fashion we stuck to the task and held fast to our commitment to achieve a brighter day for present and future generations.
Here we are at the end of 2014 – the prospect and promise of a state-of-the-art hospital facility is now a reality.
Let me, again, place on record my deep gratitude for the dedicated Public Officers, project managers, architects and engineers, contractors and suppliers, consultants, financiers and donors, former ministers and Permanent Secretaries for Health, former administrations, and all the persons over the many years who partnered with us to bring this promise to life.
I am also grateful to the Hon. Premier and Minister of Finance for his commitment to the project, and for providing the necessary financial resources.
Of course I am well aware that this project has had more than its fair share of detractors. Some say our dreams are too lofty; that this is too big of an investment, and we should have put that money into more petty contracts; or that we simply can’t afford it; that it accounts for too large a portion of our national debt.
But, fellow Virgin Islanders and friends, I put it to you, [pause] if investing in the health of our people isn’t the number one national priority, then what use is anything else that we might work for, or invest in? When you do not have your health, nothing else matters. I stand firmly on my conviction that our people, all our people, deserve access to the best available quality of healthcare.
Fellow Virgin Islanders and friends, this modern facility represents just that – a significant advancement in the quality of health services that will be delivered right here in our Territory.
As you will see when you have the opportunity to tour the building, it features advanced technology, including the best in information technology.
This will support telemedicine for highly specialized consultations with experts overseas, or remote consultations between clinics on the Sister Islands and the main hospital campus.
I use the word ‘campus’ because the building being dedicated today is not a ‘stand-alone’ building, but part of a medical complex that includes the Annex and the present hospital where several administrative offices, dialysis unit, ambulatory clinics, laboratory, mortuary and other support services will be housed. The Hospital is also part of a network of public healthcare facilities, including nine community clinics that spread across the Territory.
And so my friends, as we pause to celebrate this proud achievement today, we are mindful that our work to improve the Territory’s health infrastructure is not finished yet; we are not home yet.
Several sections of the existing hospital will be refurbished to accommodate outpatient specialist clinics, mental and dental health services, doctors’ offices, and an emergency 911 dispatch centre.
We are presently exploring the feasibility of creating a Dependent Care Unit as an extension of the Adina Donovan Home to accommodate residents in need of long term nursing care.
We will upgrade our community clinics, being ever mindful of the important role community health workers play.
Our aim is to expand the range of services and operating hours of clinics in strategic locations, to better meet the primary care needs of our people – disease prevention, early detection and treatment of conditions such as high blood pressure, and better management of diseases to slow their progression is our goal. Maintaining a focus on individuals, families, and communities is essential for achieving better health outcomes.
This is our vision, this is our goal; this is our commitment to you.
Fellow Virgin Islanders and friends, in the coming weeks Cabinet will decide and we will announce the contractor selected to construct the New Nurse Iris O’Neal Medical Facility on Virgin Gorda, and work will begin early in the New Year.
Investing in our health infrastructure clearly remains a high priority for this Government. But it is just one component of an integrated National Health Strategy that will take us closer to our common aspiration of a world-class health system.
Another vital component in delivering the highest available quality of health services from these facilities is the recruitment, training and development our local health workforce.
I am hereby making another appeal to our people, young and young at heart, to prepare and position your selves for the exciting new jobs being created in the healthcare sector.
The first phase of the new Hospital will see the addition of 109 new jobs, 70 in the division of nursing alone, as well as jobs in medical coding and billing, and the introduction of dialysis technicians and scrub techs.
Over the past several years this Government has made it a priority to award scholarships in health-related fields. Over 93 scholarships in the fields of medicine, nursing and allied health were awarded.
In addition to upgrading the capacity of the health workforce, we have been forging strategic alliances with specialist facilities and healthcare providers overseas, so that our people can have easier access to specialized treatment that are not available in the Territory.
One of the proudest moments of my current tenure as Minister for Health was cementing our affiliation with HIMA Health of Puerto Rico. Through this partnership, specialty services are provided by HIMA doctors right here on island every week. I am told that these clinics are heavily subscribed and are in the process of expanding.
This will accommodate more persons who will no longer have to travel overseas for specialist consultations and follow-up visits.
The residents taking advantage of this arrangement express great satisfaction with the service they receive. They are saving time and money and they are enjoying easier access to family support during the recovery process.
Fellow Virgin Islanders and friends, Strategic partnerships with overseas providers such as HIMA Health and Baptist Health of South Florida, not only allow us to bring more specialists to the Territory, but also to secure preferred access to accredited facilities when overseas referrals or transfers become necessary.
We have already been attracting quite a number of patients from Anguilla, St. Kitts and Nevis, and other Caribbean islands who now have access to HIMA specialists without the extra inconvenience and expense of acquiring a US visa; and this is happening even before we’ve had the chance to embark on a targeted medical tourism marketing campaign.
Fellow Virgin Islanders and friends, I am also proud to say that the new Peebles Hospital has been designed and constructed to international accreditation standards. While accreditation cannot be achieved overnight, we have embarked upon this journey.
Once the operational requirements are met and the hospital attains accreditation status, the Territory will be well positioned to succeed in the lucrative international Health Tourism industry, with its reported worth of more than 60 billion dollars annually.
In the coming year we will encourage the setting up of a medical and/or nursing school here in the Virgin Islands, these investments will generate additional revenue for the health sector, and the country as a whole.
My fellow residents and Friends, the New Peebles Hospital brings to our territory much more than the highest standards of quality healthcare services to our people. It brings the potential for a multitude of business opportunities.
Housing development for increased staff; ancillary services for specialized maintenance of equipment, and specialty laboratories, just to name a few.
The implementation of Medical Tourism and the development of a medical school will create the need for additional accommodations, entertainment, recreation, transportation on land and sea, the list goes on and on. The ancillary needs of our new hospital and the services that it will provide, will add a tremendous boost to our tourism product, creating hundreds of jobs, and spurring unprecedented economic growth for our people.
This is our vision, this is our goal; this is our commitment to you.
Fellow Virgin Islanders and friends, this brings me to another important pillar of our National Health Strategy: ensuring that everyone has affordable access to health services when they need it, whether locally or overseas, regardless of their station in life.
The National Health Insurance System is another of those bold health sector reform initiatives that is often spoken of in terms of dollars and cents, but is fundamentally a reflection of our core values and sense of responsibility and solidarity as a Virgin Islands society.
Yes, the NHI will generate revenues that will be reinvested in strengthening our domestic health system towards that world-class standard that we aspire to.
But more importantly, the NHI is about ensuring that all the services that I speak of are accessible to everyone in times of sickness and injury, regardless of their ability to pay.
It was on these same tenets of social solidarity and equal opportunity that we made secondary education universally accessible back in 1968, as a way to ensure that everyone could thrive and succeed in life.
It has been proven, time and time again, that investment in human capital yields significant long-term benefits for the whole society, and health is no exception.
And so, another proud moment in my tenure as your Minister for Health came in April of this year when the House of Assembly passed the Social Security (Amendment) Act, 2014 which provides for the establishment of the National Health Insurance System. Social Security (National Health Insurance) Regulations were approved by the Cabinet earlier this month.
In October of this year the Social Security Board signed an Agreement with Plexis Healthcare Systems for the supply and installation of the software for the NHI Information System, as well as for implementation, training, support and maintenance services. The IT system is expected to be fully installed by the end of March 2015.
My fellow Virgin Islanders and friends the NHI will Provide improved access to health services, financial risk protection, and improved health outcomes for all the people of the Virgin Islands. This is our vision, this is our goal; this is our commitment to you.
As we move forward with this important work of strengthening our health system, we know that meaningful health reform must move our health system away from managing disease and more toward preventing disease in order to improve the population’s health. We are also mindful that many of the factors that affect health lie outside of the health sector. Our National Health Strategy therefore focuses on factors other than treatment and care that affect health outcomes.
Through the work of the National Health and Wellness Advisory Council, its various sub-committees, and the community wellness councils that have already been formed in East End/Long Look, Virgin Gorda, Belle Vue/Fahie Hill, and Cane Garden Bay, our Strategy for the Prevention of Chronic Non-Communicable Diseases is being systematically rolled out.
Some of our key partners in this effort are the various Non-Profit Organisations such as the Diabetes Association, the Cancer Society, HIV/AIDS Foundation, the Red Cross, the Family Support Network, service clubs and many other community organisations whose committed volunteers give of their time and resources to help meet the health and social needs of our community.
As individuals, each of us has a critical role to play in protecting and maintaining our mental, social and physical health through the lifestyle choices we make on a daily basis – eating right, being physically active, managing stress, and reducing the harmful use of tobacco and alcohol.
Through our Chronic Disease Prevention Strategy this Government has renewed its commitment to work across all sectors, in order to make the healthier choice the easier choice.
My Fellow residents and Friends, our journey will be complete when the people of Virgin Gorda and all of the Sister Islands have access to quality healthcare and air ambulance service to their new medical facility. Our journey will be complete when our medical and nursing schools are established and medical tourism has become a significant revenue stream and jobs creator for our country; our journey will be complete when our people are making healthier choices. This is our vision this is our goal; this is our commitment to you.
My fellow Virgin Islanders and friends, I have taken the time to outline the various themes of our National Health Strategy to make the point that we have not simply been building a hospital.
We have been setting in place all the building blocks of an effective health system, and steered the course towards a healthier Virgin Islands through targeted investments.
You now have the opportunity to be part of the change through your continued prayers, support, and financial contributions to our Friends of the BVIHSA pledge programme. Your donation will save lives.
Today, as we officially swing open the doors of this flagship health facility to the people of the Virgin Islands, the Caribbean, and the world, we reflect with pride and gratitude on the stellar progress and achievements since the Cottage Hospital first opened its doors in 1922.
Many persons gathered here may recall that in 1977 the Peebles Hospital Extension was dedicated by Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II; and in 2005 the Hospital Annex was dedicated by Her Royal Highness, Princess Anne.
Today, we are not joined by any member of the Royal Family but I am proud to be accompanied by a Virgin Islander whose contribution to our health system cannot be measured. Our Honourable Premier, Dr. D. Orlando Smith, will join me in performing the act of dedication.
Today is indeed an occasion for great jubilation, but we are not home yet. We look to the future with enthusiasm and hope for even greater things to come.
In closing, I extend to you on behalf of the Ministry of Health and Social Development, its departments and statutory bodies, my wife Janice, my family, and on my own behalf, our very best wishes for a happy holiday season, and the gifts of peace, love, friendship and good health in the New Year.
May Jehovah continue to bless, guide and uphold all the people of these beautiful Virgin Islands.
I thank you.