$15m loan for merged facility Many questions, few answers

Friday, 12 January 2007

By Lisbeth Ayuso & Ann-Marie Willimas

Government has not said it officially but it will now take over the entire Universal Health Services instead of the 2/3 it announced via a Cabinet release on December 5, 2006.

With the new takeover the Reporter has learnt that the "New amalgamated entity" will borrow a $15 million loan from the Belize Bank which will be broken down in three distinct parts to keep the facility afloat, at least for a while.

Five million will be used to pay off Universal debts, $5M will be deposited in an account to service the $15M loan while the other $5M will be used for new investment.

A private meeting in Belmopan has hammered out the details of the loan between the Belize Bank and the Government of Belize, which is to happen after the merger.

Public outcry that GOB would pay off $32 million in debt for Universal, a private institution in lieu of 2/3 of the facility while still allowing Universal to control 1/3 has forced GOB to acquire the entire private hospital.

The bailout by the government became necessary when it guaranteed a private loan on Universal's behalf to the Belize Bank.

Since then, Minister of Health, Jose Coye announced his government plans on handing over land on northern Ambergris Caye in order to cover its obligations with the Belize Bank.

He also confirmed the government was paying off $12 million owed to the Development Finance Corporation by Universal.

This generous act has resulted in a task force being formed in order to devise the best way to amalgamate both Universal and the K.H.M.H. Henry Anderson, former Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of Health, chairs the task force.

Other members include: Dr. Marta Habet, representing the Belize Medical and Dental Association, Laura Longsworth, representing the Nurses Association of Belize, Marjorie Joseph, Chief Nursing Officer of Belize, Michelle Vanzie, Health Economist at the Ministry of Health, Dr. Peter Allen, Director of Policy Analysis and Planning Unit in the Ministry of Health, Dr. Paul Edwards, Deputy Director of Health Services, Alvaro Rosado, Chief Executive Officer of the K.H.M.H., Drs. Khalid Ghazy, Director of Medical Services at K.H.M.H. and Victor Lizarraga, Chairman of U.H.S.

Before being named chairman of the force, Anderson was commissioned by the K.H.M.H. to advise on options on how to approach the idea of amalgamation.

While he did not comment on his findings, he did say the task force was asked to find the best way forward and added it was necessary to gather more information from both institutions before arriving at conclusions.

But conclusions seem to be in the distance as information gathered has met with snags on Universal's end.

Since formed, the task force has met once - on December 29, 2006. That meeting penned its terms of reference and ended with promises of co-operation by both hospitals.

The submission of financial records and a list services offered, plus consent to a visit from the Accreditation Department in the Ministry of Health were agreed to be presented at the meeting scheduled for January 5 by both institutions.

To date that meeting has not taken place. What's more, the financial records and list of services has only been completed and submitted by the K.H.M.H. Universal it seems has no intention of presenting the necessary documents. In fact two representatives of the accreditation department were barred from entering their premises.

The department made no comment and attempts to reach both Dr. Victor Lizarraga or Troy Gabb were futile.

Anderson however, did speak with Reporter and said the meeting is scheduled for today January 12 as one-week was too short in which to compile the information.

Members of the task force expressed concern about the lack of information and meetings.

The postponement of scheduled meetings has pushed back the examination of data, crucial to the execution of the proposed amalgamation.

The fact that of all people, Health Minister Jose Coye is clueless about what the amalgamation should look like is little hope to the scores of doctors and nurses at the Universal who find themselves moving from a private to a public facility.

The concerns and unanswered questions are endless. What about job security? Will they take a pay cut? Will the doctors at the K.H.M.H. get a raise of pay? Will benefits be carried over? Will they all be made to retire and up for hire? And where will GOB get the money to sustain the hospital, let alone the salaries?

The financial impact on the poor and indigent is also a major concern for the country as the K.H.M.H. is presently the hospital of choice for those with little or no means.

A merge with Universal raises serious questions as to future costs for those accessing primary, secondary and tertiary care, as the disparity in care costs are huge between thee two health care providers.

Prime Minister Said Musa told Reporter in an interview on December 13, that a means test would have to be done in order to decipher those Belizeans who can afford to pay for care so as to ensure that they do pay.