Anger: The decision to close the centre at Southside has sparked dismay among residents in the East end. *Photo by Nicola Muirhead
Anger: The decision to close the centre at Southside has sparked dismay among residents in the East end. *Photo by Nicola Muirhead

More than 1,000 people have signed a petition to keep the Lamb Foggo Urgent Care Centre (UCC) open.

The centre — at Southside — is to close on November 29, after the Bermuda Hospitals Board said it was “too costly” to keep in operation.

But St David’s MP Lovitta Foggo said: “People are quite incensed about this.

“I can’t take three steps at the moment without people stopping me and saying, ‘Please keep this alive… ’.

“The reason being — this was a facility paid for by the people, and was an extension of services offered from the main hospital.”

The Lamb Foggo UCC opened in April 2009, at a cost of $7.8 million, to provide care for non-life threatening illnesses and injuries. It also offered diagnostics, blood tests and X-rays.

The UCC aimed to reduce waiting times in King Edward VII Memorial Hospital’s Emergency Department, and to provide a medical facility for the people of the east end, particularly during national disasters or hurricanes.

Yesterday Opposition Leader Marc Bean accused Health Minister Patricia Gordon-Pamplin of being “derelict in her duty” due to her “silence” on the issue.

But Ms Gordon-Pamplin hit back, telling the Sun the previous PLP government had failed to keep its books in order.

“I’m very disappointed they have chosen to politicize this, without recognizing it was their actions that put us in this situation.

“They have been unable to get audited accounts for the hospital for the last two years, since 2010-11. 

“So I don’t believe they have a clue as to the financial constraints the hospital was operating under.

“Having said that, I am very distressed the BHB had to make this decision and I am working feverishly to find an alternative solution to the closure.

“But the hospital doesn’t have the funding or the wherewithal to run it.”

The BHB has proposed to either “moth-ball” the facility — reserving it for severe storms and disasters — or to invite tenders from private medical providers to run it.

Its executive summary stated losses in previous years have ranged from $100,000-$350,000. This year the BHB “is very likely making another net loss”.

A spokeswoman told the Sun: “The decision by BHB was based on financial necessity. It simply required us to cease the service.  

“Our intent is now to work with Government to see if other healthcare providers can offer a service in the east end at a lower cost.”

According to BHB statistics, the UCC served 5,667 patients in 2010-11; 5,606 in 2011-12; and 5,587 in 2012-13.

The spokeswoman said: “The original business case noted that over 8,000 visits would be needed to sustain this service.”

The intent was to “cover the shortfall with a grant”, but this was never forthcoming from Government, she said.

The population of St David’s and St George’s is approximately 7,000, based on Bermuda’s 64,000 population split between its nine parishes.

In contrast, KEMH’s Emergency Department — serving the rest of the island’s population of 50,000 — served 33,439 patients in 2012-13.

Ms Foggo said 7,000 was a “safe figure” for St George’s and St David’s. 

The petition to keep the UCC open was started by a constituent who wishes to remain anonymous. 

Ms Foggo, who is helping to circulate it, said: “There are close to 1,000 signatures so far, including people in Hamilton Parish and as far as Somerset. 

“People really feel strongly about this.”

She said that during 2007, when the UCC was “a hot feature” of the PLP’s election campaign, there was “unanimous support, across party lines” for an east end medical facility.

“This centre has answered a need in the community, and that became very apparent when we had the closure of the Causeway (Hurricane Igor, 2010).

“God forbid we ever have something happen at our airport — we would want to have some sort of first response right there.”

Opposition Leader Marc Bean said last night the BHB should “take a look at the rest of the operating budget and see where we can save $250,000, or whatever they are saying is the deficit… review the operations so it can be as effective and efficient as possible.”

He said: “It shouldn’t be seen in isolation — it’s part of the BHB’s $104million subsidy this year from the taxpayer.

“We need to look at reducing the costs of healthcare, but that isn’t going to come in making arbitrary decisions of this nature. 

“We need to take a comprehensive look at healthcare reform.” n