By Earyel Bowleg
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE POINCIANA Recovery Institute has not opened its doors yet, but the operation is already in the midst of controversy.
The proposed facility is intended to be a peaceful respite for its elderly guests, but is a nightmare for the surrounding residents of Highland Park/West Grove who fear if the facility is approved, it will change their quiet community.
Community members and those involved with the project voiced their opinions last week at a public meeting hosted by the Department of Physical Planning and the Town Planning Committee.
A representative of the centre said the facility’s aim is to address an acute lack of care in The Bahamas for patients who require care for injuries such as strokes and long-term cardiovascular conditions.
The expected benefits include creating more than 25 jobs for Bahamians looking to work in a safe outpatient environment and address the gaps in availability of restorative technology for rehabilitation and long-term care.
Dr Barret McCartney, the facility’s president, addressed “the elephant in the room” with the disinformation surrounding the centre. He clarified that it was not intended to be a COVID facility or hospital.
“There have been some unfounded rumours spread about this facility that has absolutely no basis. In fact, it has all been designed to sow doubt, fear, and confusion about this facility,” he said.
He told The Tribune the centre will be a retirement, convalescent home for aged people. But that did very little to ease the concerns of those who live in the neighbourhood. Those residents present at the meeting acknowledged the importance of such a facility, but were mostly against it as they fear the medical centre will ruin the tranquil nature of the community which was a reason many had moved to the area in the first place.
According to president of the Grove West Homeowners Association, Barbara Hepburn, the residents did not get much advance information on the facility and its proposed operations.
The building had previously belonged to the Jehovah Witness church. A public notice was issued in July about the proposed changes for the building.
“There was no meeting with the community. The concerns were we didn’t know what was happening there and a lot of the residents were trying to find out what was going on,” Ms Hepburn said.
“We didn’t have access to the building and nobody wanted to tell you what was going on. It was a mystery and the residents were really concerned because we knew they were requesting a change in the zoning and that meeting was supposed to come up with town planning. Because of COVID, the town planning meeting never happened. “
She thinks a residential community is not an ideal place for that establishment and the move could change the landscape of the area.
“It’s like you opening the door for more businesses,” she told The Tribune. “So once it becomes a healthcare facility and it becomes commercial, now who’s to say ‘Well I cannot put more commercial companies or entities in the community’ because you have already opened the door for one commercial (entity).”
She has alleged the property has been operating without getting proper approval. After Town Planning reportedly said it was not in their jurisdiction because they have not yet given permission to the centre, Mrs Hepburn decided to contact police. She said a letter was sent in August to Commissioner of Police Paul Rolle asking for the matter to be investigated.
The letter noted residents saw a great amount of activities for the past two to three weekends suggesting the facility may be open to the general public. Mr Rolle referred the residents back to the Town Planning Committee, saying the body would have to issue a complaint to the police for it to be officially investigated - and that it would be up to that committee or the Medical Association to contact police.
However, Mrs Hepburn said an investigation was done. For his part, Dr McCartney told The Tribune that no resident made any complaint directly to him, however he had been “dragged out of the hospital, out of the operating room, to come down to the police station to give an account as to what was going on”.
“I know the people who made the complaints personally. I’ve known them for almost 40 years. I thought I had a really good relationship with them, but obviously they decided to take it through this route,” Dr McCartney said.
Dr McCartney explained to The Tribune that the nursing home, Coastline, needed temporary accommodation for some of their clients, thus he allowed them to put some of their clients on the property.
As for the concerns of commercial activities disturbing the neighbourhood, he said the property had been sold to the Jehovah Witness church about 40 years ago, arguing that as a result some commercial activity was already in the area.
He said: “The land was landlocked and the only access to the land was through residential roads and despite that it was zoned to build the church to operate an administrative headquarters and a hostel for their missionaries and all of their street activities was based on that operation and that went on for 40 years. So there was commercial or institutional activity going through those residential roads for all those years.”
He noted that he explained to residents what was going on with the property, so he was flabbergasted with the concerns brought up in the meeting.
Acting director of the Department of Physical Planning Charles Zonicle noted in the meeting that a letter outlined that any use of the facility or any activity at that point of the application consideration process should not occur and company representatives were told to cease and desist.
Mr Zonicle noted back in May 2014 the property was zoned for institutional use only.
Dr McCartney doesn’t know when a decision will be made on the application.