By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Minister of Health yesterday said he is unable to improve healthcare facilities used by thousands of Bahamians because "my hands are tied by projects of questionable value".
Dr Duane Sands told Tribune Business that the contracts entered into by the former Christie administration for new Family Island clinics were consuming funds needed to improve the Princess Margaret Hospital and other New Providence-based facilities.
"I'm sitting here reviewing the flow of funds, and unfortunately Cat Island, Rum Cay and San Salvador has become a test case," he said. "I have thousands of dollars flowing for projects I have a hard time justifying, while I have real needs impacting thousands and tens of thousands of Bahamians I can't fix because I don't have the money."
Dr Sands told Tribune Business on Monday that the three Cat Island clinics proposed by the former administration, costing a combined $11 million, will serve between six to nine patients per day based on current healthcare facility usage trends.
The Christie government had awarded three clinic construction contracts pre-election that were valued at $2.349 million for Old Bight; $2.1 million for Orange Creek Clinic; and $6.6 million for Smith's Bay. This was in addition to $1.6 million earmarked for Rum Cay, an island with just 70 persons, and $300,000 for San Salvador, taking the full outlay in the constituency of now-Opposition leader, Philip Davis, to just under $14 million.
Dr Sands yesterday indicated that these commitments were threatening to suck much-needed, scarce funds away from badly-needed upgrades in Nassau where the Government will get 'a bigger bang for its buck' by benefiting more Bahamians.
Besides Princess Margaret Hospital, the Minister identified the Coconut Grove clinic as a major area of need. "It sees 12,000 patients a year, they do an amazing job and have to do so with a roof that is leaking buckets every day," he told Tribune Business.
"If I did not have my hands tied by projects of questionable value, I can move very quickly to get that roof fixed. We're setting about solving those challenges, but it creates some very awkward and risky scenarios."
Dr Sands said he was coming across "continual problems" after taking office, adding: "I can point to a number of things that we in-artfully done, that were inappropriately done."
He identified one of these problems as a group of nurses, who had been working full time for the Ministry of Health since November 2016, but who had not been paid.
"It is absolutely outrageous, and we have to get it fixed and not wish it goes away," Dr Sands added. "You have to go through steps to ensure it is done properly, and that doesn't happen overnight, much as I'd like it to. I feel their pain."
Adopting language used by US president, Donald Trump, the Minister of Health said he had to "drain the swamp" and do it quickly to get the public healthcare sector back on track.