By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
RAGGED Island residents were feeling neglected even before Hurricane Dorian ravaged Grand Bahama and Abaco.
Now with attention fixed on restoring the country’s second and third largest island economies, residents of Ragged Island feel despair, fearing their wait for basic services like healthcare and public education will be pushed aside indefinitely.
The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) designated their island “uninhabitable” after Hurricane Irma in 2017 and has not lifted that tag since.
The consequences of this can be severe for the 60 or so residents living there, with one family finding this year that when the health of their patriarch deteriorated, emergency medical airlift wasn’t available because of the absence of a doctor on the island.
Perseus Wilson had a membership in a company that provides emergency medical transportation services throughout the Bahamas.
When he sought help in August, the company declined to airlift him. According to documents seen by The Tribune, it said he was not in the care of a medical professional and a doctor neither recommended his transport or said he was stable for flight, all requirements for mobilisation.
“He was angry to find out they wouldn’t come to get him after he paid his money to be a member,” his wife, Jill Wilson, recalled on Wednesday. “Perseus also spoke with doctors in Exuma and they said for them to come he has to be seen by a doctor who must say he’s at a stage where they have to pick him up. But how can a doctor say that when no doctor is on the island?”
Mr Wilson was eventually transported by private charter to Exuma and then to Princess Margaret Hospital in Nassau. He died in August at 66.
He had stage three chronic kidney disease and, doctors discovered, cancer. His family does not argue that he would be alive today even if he had received medical attention sooner. However, the absence of a clinic and medical professionals on their island has dangerously complicated the equation for anyone who needs emergency help, they stressed.
“There has to be at least a nurse on the island and that may have made a difference in his case,” Mrs Wilson said. “I have children down there now and I’m going back there so of course I’m worried this could happen again.”
Many Ragged Island residents believe the government wants them to abandon the island and leave it truly uninhabited. This, they surmise, would lessen the burden on the public treasury in an era when climate change has the country rethinking its approach to hurricane preparedness.
Two reasons Rochelle Maycock, 33, isn’t fleeing Ragged Island is her dislike for the country’s cities and the vibrancy of her island’s fishing industry, which, she said, brings her husband nearly $80,000 a year.
“You know how much seafood Ragged Island does produce?” she asked on Wednesday. “Right now we have, say, 8,000 pounds of crawfish on the island or more. Most of the people already rebuilt their houses after the storm. All we need is for the government to step up and come with essential services.”
Erica Wallace, 38, said her two children were attending school in Exuma last year, but are now back on Ragged Island, getting education through non-traditional means.
“We just got tired of the separation so they’re here now being homeschooled until the government decides to put a school here,” she said, adding her children are enrolled with Southside Academy, which offers online homeschooling services. “We want to be together as a family so this is what we have to deal with now. We want the physical school though so the children could mix with other children.”
During his national address in May, Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis announced an $8 million investment in Ragged Island’s redevelopment that would involve the construction of a new $2 million school and teachers’ duplex, a $2.5 million clinic, a $2.5 million administrator’s office, a post office and courtroom and a new $1 million police station and accommodations.
Four months later, residents on the island say no work has started on any of this.
“My engineers and architects are working on this project and all of the other capital projects that we are looking to construct throughout the country,” Works Minister Desmond Bannister said Wednesday when asked about the matter.
He said the issue isn’t a simple one. “After Dorian they have to drop whatever they are doing to assess schools, government buildings, seawalls and hundreds of residential buildings in Grand Bahama and Abaco,” he said.
On Facebook, the complaint of one Ragged Island descendent was shared dozens of times yesterday.
Janae Wallace wrote: “This place is where I’ve learned everything I know, this place made me who I am today. Hurricane Dorian tore through Grand Bahama and Abaco and they have been given an overwhelming response from all over the world. Not to be selfish, but I have to ask the question, have y’all forgotten about Ragged Island? Is Ragged Island considered to be a part of the Bahamas?”