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‘Why strip our seniors of their dignity?’

Former Health Minister critical of restarting medical clinic

By Jonathan Bell

Government’s commitment to reinstating the medical clinic for vulnerable patients is a step backwards, according to former Health Minister Zane DeSilva.

The One Bermuda Alliance will now “find themselves between a rock and a hard place” in following through on the pre-election promise to bring back the facility, he said.

“On the one hand, the Minister acknowledges that the closure of the old, colonial-style medical clinic at King Edward VII Memorial was laudable,” the Progressive Labour Party MP continued.

“On the other hand, the OBA feels compelled to cave in to the more extreme elements in its ranks.”

The Government-run medical clinic was closed under former Premier Ewart Brown in 2007, amid a storm of controversy.

The clinic was said to be expensive and undermining to the dignity of the seniors, the poor and other patients to whom it was offered.

Its closure was cited as a mistake by the OBA — and new Health Minister Patricia Gordon Pamplin wasted little time pledging to make good on frequent vows to open the facility again.

Mr DeSilva’s comments came after Ms Gordon Pamplin told

The Royal Gazette that “the concept behind the initial closure was laudable, but the execution has been disappointing”.

“If the concept of freedom of choice with social dignity is a ‘laudable’ one, and only ‘proper execution’ was missing, why throw the baby out with the bath water?” he asked. “Why go backwards to an archaic United Bermuda Party policy of herding poor black people — and a few white people — into the most expensive place for their medical care?

“Why revert to old social policies? Why strip our seniors of their dignity?”

Mr DeSilva added: “The Minister will be challenged to show how in the world this regressive change represents sound fiscal management.”

Ms Gordon-Pamplin didn’t respond to a request for comment yesterday.

Former OBA Health and Seniors spokeswoman Louise Jackson said Mr DeSilva’s criticism wasn’t relevant to how the clinic operated at the time of its closure.

“There was the original, indigent clinic back in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. And even in those days, I don’t think it was as bad as they were saying,” Ms Jackson said.

“The previous Minister has conveniently skipped over the actual clinic that was closed by the PLP.”

The indigent clinic was a shabbier predecessor to a modern version, recalled Ms Jackson, who said the latter was welcoming, well-furnished and non-stigmatising.

Asked what she would like to see different in a reopened facility, she said: “To tell you the truth, I don’t think there was anything that needed to be changed about the medical clinic. The clinic that was closed down was functioning very well.

“It covered all the bases that it should, and served people who needed its services in an excellent way.

“It was well placed. Transport was provided for seniors and the physically challenged, through the Red Cross and other charities, so they had ways of getting there.

“Once there, they could be seen by any of the specialists if they were needed. They had all the testing right there at the hospital, and a pharmacy there for them.

“It was comfortable, and going there was an enjoyable event for many of them. And, of course, you had to be assessed before you were admitted.”

Retired doctor Eugene Harvey was a staunch proponent of the medical clinic. He described the old moniker for the facility as “an unfortunate name” but said he’d been passionate about keeping the clinic going.

“Historically, it was started for obvious reasons — doctors realised that there was a segment of the population that wasn’t getting treatment because they couldn’t afford it,” he said. “GPs volunteered their time to run it.

“It provided free medical attention, free consultations, free testing and free medication. Dr Brown expressed his view of it, which I did not agree with.”

Because of the clinic’s location at King Edward VII Memorial, it had “everything under the same roof, with quick and easy access”, he added.

“Transport was right outside the door with the bus stops 100 yards away for people who didn’t have their own cars.”

His suggestion for a new medical clinic: “A disadvantage with the old system with volunteers was that patients would see a different doctor every time they went.”

Asked if he supported reopening the facility on principle, Dr Harvey said: “Absolutely — I thoroughly approve of it. If nobody needs it, fine. Time will show that it’s not being used.”

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Published January 15, 2013 at 8:00 am (Updated January 14, 2013 at 11:35 pm)

‘Why strip our seniors of their dignity?’

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