Finally, the people of Tobago could now breathe a collective sigh of relief with the official opening of the new Scarborough General Hospital at Signal Hill last Wednesday.
The 100 bed facility had officially begun operations two days earlier with CT Scans and other services being offered to patients. Despite Wednesday's opening, it would take at least six months before the full operations of the hospital are transferred from the present facility to the new one at Signal Hill.
It was in 2003, when the then Prime Minister Patrick Manning accompanied by his then Planning Minister Keith Rowley and Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Chief Secretary Orville London turned the sod to start the construction of the new hospital.
The Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) funded project to the tune of $135 million was at the time given a two-year construction period by the Emile Elias' NH International Construction Limited. This meant that since 2005, a THA election year, Tobagonians have been expecting the new hospital. However, the project was marked by numerous delays and controversies including an allegation that material from the construction project site were being siphoned to another project in Mason Hall, Tobago. Meanwhile, the hospital project was undergoing some radical changes to the original designs.
This provided the necessary leverage for variations and cost overruns by the contractors. Mired in controversy, NH sought to be disengaged from the overdue project. This was followed by a bitter arbitration process that caused the project to remain at a standstill for about 18 months. A new contract was awarded to China Railway Construction Limited, who successfully completed the project.
The Scarborough Hospital project featured prominently during the highly charged political campaign leading up the May 2010 general elections. Then Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissesser slammed the then ruling PNM government for the pain and suffering it had put Tobagonians under for the non-delivery of the new hospital. She promised then, that if her government was put in power, the hospital would be delivered to the people of Tobago.
At the Commissioning event, all of the leading politicians in Tobago turned out for the historic event. Also in attendance were newly appointed Chief Executive Officer of the Tobago Regional Health Authority, Paula Chester-Cumberbatch and former Minister of Health Jerry Narrace. Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissesar arrived at approximately 2:20 pm and was greeted by Health Minister Dr. Fuad Khan and Chief Secretary of Tobago Orville London.
While bringing remarks, Tobago West Representative Dr Delmon Baker told the Large Audience, which included the Chinese Ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago, His Excellency Ambassador Yang Youming that: "Today marks a giant step in the right direction." Baker, who is a medical doctor, said the facility is open to all Tobagonians and he expects a greater degree of service.
Secretary of Health and Social Services Claudia Groome-Duke said the commissioning of the hospital sets a new benchmark for health care in Tobago.
She said the THA, TRHA and Ministry of Health all worked together to make the event a success. She added that the THA would continue to strive for better health care services in Tobago with the Scarborough hospital as well as upgraded health care centres across the island.