“WHY did they sign a contract with us when they knew that there were not enough funds to honour it?”
This was the question recently asked by an incredulous nurse when told that after the May election the new government discovered that there was more than an $89m public healthcare funding shortage – certainly not enough to cover an increase in salaries or other benefits for doctors, nurses and other staff. The mission for the new government was to cut costs in an attempt to keep the hospital operational and be able to provide the minimum of care for patients.
But why? the nurse persisted. To answer that question, one would have to understand politicians and to know that when they talk about “everything for the people” their main ambition is really to secure that five-year seat in the House of Assembly, whatever the cost. The signing of increased contracts with the medical staff only a few months before the election would obviously clinch their all-important vote. That, in short, is the measure of politics and most politicians.
When the Minnis government swept to power in 2017, leaving a four-member PLP to represent a soundly defeated former-government in the House, Health Minister Dr Duane Sands was left with a crumbling medical structure, a mountain of unpaid bills and other financial commitments — such as the nurses’ contract with its increased benefits.
It was also discovered that from 2012 through 2017 Princess Margaret Hospital bills had neither been sent out nor what should have been collected from insurance companies had not even been billed. It was estimated that this collapsed department, essential to keep open the doors of any sound business, could have brought in an estimated $251m for the hospital. However, considering the statute of limitations for debt, it is doubtful that any part of this is collectible.
As a result, an attempt has been made to renegotiate the nurses’ contract, particularly in the hopes of reducing overtime.
Of course, the nurses are dissatisfied. The Prime Minister was their only recourse. After meeting with him on Friday, they announced that they had “high expectations” that their concerns would be resolved in their favour. The prime minister has asked for two weeks to consider their concerns.
After the meeting, the nurses’ spokesperson said it would be “sad if he doesn’t come through”. However, given the serious financial situation, we would be surprised if he is able to. After all, it was only in the Bible that we read that Moses “raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank”. We don’t consider the Prime Minister a Moses.
It was also observed that the state of the PMH was such that those in The Bahamas who could afford it were spending their money at the Cleveland Clinic and other Miami hospitals. As for Abaco residents, they all looked to Miami for medical care, the Princess Margaret was not even considered.
Last year, Dr Sands observed that the new government was faced with contracts that the former government had signed with no “out clauses”. They are wrestling with one now on which millions have gone out, but nothing has been done at the site to justify it. It should be mandated that no government contract over a certain amount should be agreed without it having been first vetted by the Attorney General’s office. This one certainty needs close investigation.
At the moment, the PHA has received a proposal that would get it out of this crisis. We hope the board is wise enough to sign on to it.
Also over the years there has been much talk among the medical profession and others to introduce medical tourism to The Bahamas. In researching this, we were surprised to discover the number of Bahamians of all walks of life who fly all the way to Bangkok, Thailand, to enjoy the expertise, comfort and special care provided at the Bumrungrad International Hospital in Bangkok.
“The doctors and nurses there are unbelievable and the medical care is fantastic,” said a young Bahamian businessman. “The rooms are breathtaking — they even have suites with two or three bedrooms, 24-hour nursing, and butler service – it’s not very expensive. And they are doing a roaring business.” We knew of a Bahamian businessman who used to go there for his annual physical.
This is what The Bahamas needs — even Abaconians might turn their eyes towards Nassau — if the PHA aligned itself with a large American hospital that could establish this service here. This would end the need to cross the Gulf Stream for want of the necessary equipment at PMH, or if here is gathering dust in some corner because no one has either had the expertise or initiative to install it.