THE FAST response to the fire that broke out at the Port of Spain General Hospital on Friday should be commended. Officials should, however, take all steps to learn lessons from the event. Officers from the Belmont Fire Station quickly got the situation under control and hospital staff and security handled the decanting of patients swiftly. Certainly, their coolness and professionalism made what was a very dangerous situation more tolerable.
According to staff and patients at the hospital, the fire took place around 7 pm and by 7.30 pm all the patients had been removed. Preliminary reports suggested the fire began with a generator near the X-Ray Department and spread to a building on the compound. Whatever the cause, the sight of plumes of thick grey smoke rising from the hospital on a busy Friday evening was a frightening one.
While its infrastructure has aged, the hospital’s importance as a medical facility with a large catchment area remains undiminished. Located in the capital, it services the most densely populated region on the island. Yet, it has an official bed capacity of just 574.
The range of services offered includes 24-hour emergency care, maternity care, surgeries and rehabilitative care to inpatients and outpatients for both the surgical and medical specialties. Numerous support services, which include laboratory, radiology and pharmacy services, are also in high demand.
Yet despite all this, the hospital has, mercifully, never buckled under the pressure. It survived the 6.9 magnitude earthquake last year despite serious concerns over the central block which was decanted as a precaution.
While the arrangements governing the reported allocation of the billion-dollar central block project to a Chinese firm needs to be subject to greater transparency, it’s a welcome move given the long period of neglect the facility has endured. However, with the timeline of construction uncertain, it’s clear there is need to somehow make the workload more manageable.
In this regard, help should be found from the operation of health centres within easy reach of the city. The Santa Cruz Health Centre, the St James District Health Facility, the Success Laventille Health Centre, the Upper Laventille Health Centre, the Oxford Street Enhanced Health Centre and the Woodbrook Health Centre are just a few that are near to the general hospital. Are citizens taking advantage of these?
Assuming there are matters for which people go to the hospital that could be addressed at the regional level, these and other similar facilities should be promoted more to take up some of the slack.
For now, we breathe a sigh of relief but it is hoped none of these developments in any way reflect strain from the heavy workload on the country’s first public medical facility.