LITTLE LONDON, Westmoreland — Some 9,000 Westmoreland residents can now enter the New Year secure in the knowledge that affordable health care is in reach.
This is following last Saturday's reopening of the Little London Health Centre, which is to serve 15 communities in that western parish.
For almost two years residents have had to travel as much as 12 kilometers to the Negril Health Centre to access primary health care after the 50- year-old centre that once served the residents was ordered closed due its dilapidated condition.
The closure had come too following several massive demonstrations by residents in the Little London community over the poor state of the health facility.
When Health Minister Dr Fenton Ferguson officially declared the renovated centre open on Saturday, the residents could not contain their joy.
" I feel good; It's our best New Year's gift," said a joyful Yolanda Senior. "I used to go to Negril and it used to be hectic. I was one of those who demonstrated because for the elderly people it was so hectic to bring them down to Negril. The blind ones— like my grandparent who is 97- years- old— it is very hectic to take them. So I really appreciate the clinic.
Her views were echoed by another community member, Radcliffe McKenzie.
" Not just for myself but for the community of Little London and surrounding communities, it is a great feeling to know we have the health centre up and running again. It was a great loss when the health centre was not around for members of the community, especially the elderly," he explained.
"We appreciate what Mr Ferguson (Minister of Health) and his team have done for the community and for Westmoreland on a whole. I hope people living around the community will support and help to keep the building and property in good condition.".
The renovation exercise which commenced during the previous Jamaica Labour Party- administration under the stewardship of former minister of health Rudyard Spencer, was funded by the National Health Fund.
The facility, has a staff complement of 12, eight of whom are resident staff.
The health centre provides a range of services, including mental health, maternal and child health.
Roughly 6,000 patients are expected to be treated at the institution on an annual basis.
Dr Dianne Campbell Stennett Medical Officer of Health for the parish of Westmoreland on Saturday expressed gratitude to all the stakeholders who contributed to the renovation of the facility, as she charged the residents to protect the building.
"I challenge all of you to remain vigilant so that vandalism does not erode the effort that we have really made here," Dr Campbell Stennett emphasised.
"The staff of the Westmoreland Health Department and the Little London Health Centre remain committed to provide you quality health services and we want to assure you that your wellbeing is of paramount importance to us".
Meanwhile, Dr Ferguson noted that most of the patients who have been using the Little London Health Centre are being treated for diabetes and hypertension.
He also lauded the board of the Western Regional Health Authority for the role they played in the repair of the building.
The reopening of the Little London Health Centre was one of several assignments for Dr Ferguson in the western Jamaica last weekend.
On Friday, he toured the Ulster Spring Health Centre and the Falmouth General Hospital, both in Trelawny.
At Ulster Spring, Dr Ferguson announced a $10million upgrade for the facility, while the Falmouth General Hospital, he said, will benefit from a $40 million upgrading programme.