Tackling noxious fumes at Cornwall Regional Hospital to cost ‘hundreds of millions’, says health minister

Tufton announces three-pronged approach to correct CRH issue

BY HORACE HINES Observer staff reporter hinesh@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, February 16, 2017

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MONTEGO BAY, St James — It will cost the Government "hundreds of millions of dollars" to correct a nagging problem of noxious fumes emanating from an antiquated ventilation system that has created havoc at Cornwall Regional Hospital (CRH) in Montego Bay.


That much was made clear by Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton yesterday as he announced a three-pronged approach to address the crisis that has forced the abandonment of the first three floors of the 10-storey hospital.


Among the measures declared by Dr Tufton at a press conference at the Type A hospital is the appointment of a technical team to address the problem.


He estimated that corrective measures will take "the next three to six months" to be completed.


"We have assembled a separate team of the technical people, the engineers, the environmental specialists, the contractors, and this includes agencies, including some government agencies like the UDC (Urban Development Corporation), but also some private contractors," Dr Tufton said, adding that his ministry is also in touch with the Pan American Health Organization on the matter.


"In my estimation, you (are) looking at three to six months in some instances, given the current situation as we understand it, and as we have been advised by the experts. There is not going to be a temporary solution, a very short-term solution, to the problem the hospital now faces," he said.


The health minister was quick to point out that he is not ruling out replacing the archaic ventilation system with a more modern one.


During the corrective work, the minister said services which were offered on the affected floors will continue to be facilitated from other areas, some of which will be under tents on the hospital compound.


"The second part of the challenge, having identified new locations to house a number of these departments, is how to manage the logistics of moving both patients and the administration of patient care from one location to the next," Dr Tufton said.


The minister also said a massive communication drive will have to be launched to keep the public who utilise the health-care facility aware of where the services offered on the first three floors have been relocated, as well as the progress of the rehabilitation work.


Flanked by permanent secretary in the Ministry of Health Sancia Bennett Temple, director of the Western Regional Health Authority Dr Ken Douglas, and the CEO of the hospital Anthony Smikle, Dr Tufton chronicled the ventilation crisis.


He said that as result of a similar issue late last year, leaking fumes with contaminants from fibreglass lining the ventilation system connected to the air conditioning unit, prompted a similar relocation of operations from the three affected floors.


He added that following restoration work by technical personnel in January, full services were restored to the affected areas.


But, within a few weeks, it was déjà vu, as a lot of the departments that were originally affected started to report that problems still existed.


"This was a system that was out of operation for some time — closer to 20 years — and was recommissioned. Apparently (it) was not sufficiently sanitised. The recommissioning led to these fumes sent through the hospital system and particularly through the three first floors of the hospital where the ventilation system is primarily located. At the time, we requested a number of agencies to support the assessment of what was happening in order to deal with the issue," Dr Tufton said.

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