Princess Margaret Hospital Celebrates 50 Years with Royal Visit


The Princess Margaret Hospital in St. Thomas, which has been providing quality healthcare for residents of the parish and sections of Portland and St. Andrew over the last 50 years, will again be graced by royalty, with the visit of Her Royal Highness (HRH) the Princess Royal, niece of the late Princess Margaret, after whom the facility is named.
HRH Princess Margaret officially opened the hospital on February 23, 1955. The facility was built to replace the Morant Bay Hospital, which was ravaged by Hurricane Charlie in 1951.
The Princess Royal will officiate at a rededication ceremony to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the hospital and unveil a plaque on the hospital’s compound.
Other activities planned to mark the milestone, include a church service at Coke Methodist Church in Morant Bay on Sunday, February 20 starting at 9:00 a.m. and a health fair and an Open Day on the hospital’s compound on Wednesday, February 23.
State Minister for Transport and Works and Member of Parliament for Western St. Thomas, Dr. Fenton Ferguson will be the guest speaker at the Open Day while Dr. Cecil Batchelor, Senior Medical Officer and David Coombs, Chief Executive Officer at the Princess Margaret Hospital, will bring greetings.
Mr. Coombs tells JIS News, that despite the challenges, the hospital has made significant strides over the years as it continues to provide quality care for residents of eastern Jamaica.
He says that the facility underwent major upgrading to repair damage caused by Hurricane Gilbert in 1988. The damage had reduced operating capacity at the hospital from 180 to 40 beds. “A lot of services were lost and the community suffered in kind. However, the government saw it fit to get it back up and running,” he informs JIS News.
Today, the hospital is a Type C facility with 122 beds and five wards for children, males, females, integrated and maternity patients. The facility handles some 4,000 cases monthly and has over 4,800 admissions annually. It also offers x-rays, paediatric care and accident and emergency services. Mr. Coombs says there is need to redevelop the facility so as to offer more specialised services to keep abreast of the growth in population and the high occupancy level at the hospital.
In addition, he points out, patients who would normally be treated at health centres in the parish are now seeking attention at the hospital because some of the clinics are not functioning at full capacity “The space is not adequate.once it reached 190 patients and we had to be creative and put in extra beds. Thankfully, it has not been like that too often,” Mr. Coombs says.
The Chief Executive Officer, who has been at the helm for two years, tells JIS News, that he would like to see the hospital offering more diagnostic services such as ultra-sounds and electrocardiogram (ECG), noting that these are in high demand. Currently, x-ray services are offered five days per week, moving up from two, as a result of the volume of work.
He also wishes to have the hospital upgraded to a Type B facility. “But it’s a long road and we have to take it one step at a time. We have to look at what it is that we have to offer to the public,” the CEO says.
He also points to the need for the upgrading and re-equipping of the accident and emergency unit, the medical records department and the medical laboratory, to significantly improve services as well as to prevent persons from having to travel to Kingston for specialised care.
He notes that the medical records department has outgrown its small area and it has become “quite tedious to retrieve patients’ documents, which is integral for follow up procedures and to keep case history on particular individuals.”
Meanwhile, Mr. Coombs tells JIS News that he is grateful for the financial and other support from corporate Jamaica and overseas organisations, noting that the assistance has helped to reduce costs at the facility.
Over the years, the JASPER Memorial Hospital in Illinois, United States, has been instrumental in donating medical equipment and making financial donations towards minor repairs. Among the equipment donated is an air conditioning system for the operating theatre valued at over $800,000 and more recently, a laparoscopic machine.
To reduce energy costs, the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica (PCJ) through the government’s National Energy Conservation Programme, has promised to install a new 40-horse power boiler at the hospital.
The programme aims to save energy costs while retaining or increasing the level of production and convenience that results from the use of petroleum products. The installation of the energy saving boiler, estimated to cost some $950,000, will provide hot water for the laundry, kitchen and the children’s dormitory and other areas.
The Princess Margaret hospital was declared a ‘Baby-Friendly’ facility in September 2001, under the United Nations Children Fund and the World Health Organisation/Pan American Health Organisation global campaign to encourage breastfeeding for the first six months.
As part of the effort, some improvement work was done to the delivery area and a number of wards and incubators were refurbished to ensure the comfort of mothers and their babies. Mr. Coombs notes that there are some 90 deliveries monthly and fatalities are low.
“So far, there have been no major concerns yet, since we try to maintain a high standard,” he tells JIS News, adding that at all times, the hospital tries to have at least two midwives available at the time of delivery.
The CEO’s long-term vision for the hospital is to see the development of the 13- hectare property (32 acres) for the promotion of health tourism. He notes that the location of the hospital, which overlooks the Caribbean Sea, makes it ideal for patients needing curative and therapeutic care. But, such a project will require getting rid of the squatters, who have set up structures at the back of the property.
“Princess Margaret is quite strategically placed on the coast. It has a view of the sea and we have the Bath Fountain, one of the most potent fountains in the world. Putting the two together, you can create a therapeutic package,” he says.
“It’s an ambitious thought, but with some capital and some serious backing, I think we could get there,” he adds.
Mr. Coombs informs that a proposal to cultivate vegetables on the compound was being developed so that the hospital could provide fresh vegetables for its patients. But this project, he notes, will have to be implemented after a fence was established to keep away the stray animals, which have full access to the compound.

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