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How much is a life worth?

During a recent ZBM News broadcast, Tari Trott delivered a segment in which he canvassed the East End of the Island polling residents for their reaction to the announcement that the Lamb Foggo Urgent Care Centre (UCC) would be closing. It was a segment that at once left me scratching my head and feeling somewhat disquieted. No, I was not upset about the closure of the UCC, but, rather, upset that Bermudians had allowed themselves to become so terribly confused over the issue. My feelings were compounded by the fact that I could relate: I, too, had been confused about the very same matter until very recently.

Unsurprisingly, Bermudians seemed troubled over the closure of the facility. One resident panged about government “playing games,” while another opined that the “centre was really needed.” But the most interesting thing about the segment was not any one comment, but, rather, a common thread which existed throughout them all: that these residents actually believed the Urgent Care Center was built for and to provide urgent care. When it doesn't, and never has.

Now, in the package, one noted comment came toward the end, when a woman wondered what would happen to an eastender having a stroke without access to the UCC. Indeed, what would become of any eastender experiencing a medical emergency who had to rely solely on services from King Edward VII Memorial Hospital? It was these sorts of situations — and the inevitable tragedies that could arise — that, I imagine, were running through many Bermudians' minds as they lamented the Centre's closure. These residents (and myself included at one point) simply assumed that it would be the UCC's role to respond, provide care, and, in the end, save lives should any medical crisis arise in the East End which demanded quick action.

And why shouldn't we have assumed, based on the Centre's name? One should expect that something labelled as an “urgent care centre” would actually be equipped to offer emergency care. But that isn't the case, and the UCC's own website and literature make that clear. In fact, the Bermuda Hospitals Board (BHB) advises residents to turn to the Centre when they need assistance for “something like a bump, bruise, graze, cut, cough, cold or earache,” but to call instead on the hospital for anything else. In bold type, the BHB's website states that the facility does not provide emergency care. It isn't even open past midnight.

So, more than anything, it seems, the UCC services the East End of the Island as more of a glorified clinic than a facility actually equipped to deal with urgent medical matters. Yet, the BHB has us foolishly believe otherwise, with our misconceptions founded on no more than semantics.

We are right to be confused about things, but, at this point, many Bermudians are confused for the wrong reasons. Given that Lamb Foggo handles only some 14 patients a day, and operates at a loss of over $250,000 per year, we should instead be wondering if the Centre represents a prudent use of public monies. But what is a life worth, some would ask in retort? While that's a good question, the more important question to ask is how many lives has the UCC saved? The likely answer is none, because it was not designed to.

For that reason, we can continue to provide the UCC, but at what cost? Eventually, the waste of the continued losses incurred will impair the quality of healthcare services provided elsewhere by BHB. At that point, and counter-intuitively, we may at worst be risking real lives.

This all leads to an important and no doubt unifying point. The idea that where money is spent is just as important as how much is spent is one which even the most ardent progressive should agree with. And, too, even the conservative among us would rather see their $2.4 million a year be spent on actually providing care and actually saving lives, rather than maintaining an underused and overly expensive facility for such needs as attending to “bump[s], bruise[s], graze[s], cut[s], cough[s], cold[s] or earache[s].”

With this in mind, I raise the same question as those who oppose the closure, but in a different context: how much is a life worth? Do we spend our money on providing and improving urgent care, or do we spend it on providing a so-called “Urgent Care Centre” with the capabilities of a walk-in clinic?

These questions — and the implications of their answers — are important ones, and the idea they encapsulate can be illustrated by returning to one of the scenarios imagined in tonight's news broadcast: without the Care Center, where is a resident of the east to go if they have a sudden stroke or some other life-threatening emergency in the middle of the night? The answer is the same regardless of whether Lamb Foggo is open or closed. They go to KEMH. But now, without the financial strain of supporting a haemorrhaging facility, KEMH can operate with a few million dollars more in the tank. And when it comes to matters life and death, a few million dollars more may just mean the difference between life and death.

This piece originally appeared at Ryan Whiting's blog at www.ryanjwhiting.com/blog/. Ryan is the 2012 XL Scholarship recipient, he is studying Finance and Economics at New York University's Stern School of Business.

Lamb Foggo Urgent Care Center (Photo by Akil Simmons)

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Published November 13, 2013 at 8:00 am (Updated November 13, 2013 at 8:33 am)

How much is a life worth?

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