Community chips in to help health care

Donors to the Health Services Authority

Health care is one of those universal issues that can unify and galvanise a population.

In Cayman, individuals, corporations, industries and community groups for years have come to the assistance of the Health Services Authority, and with the authority only making a profit for the first time in its existence in the last financial year, there have been many times of need.

In recent years, thanks to donations, the Cayman Islands Hospital has been able to hire a second child psychologist and obtain two new blood analysers, a phototherapy bassinet for children with jaundice, a stress test treadmill for cardiac patients, pumps to deliver chemotherapy drugs, a sigmoidoscope for intestinal checks, a digital mammogram machine and a corneal topographer that can produce a 3D map of a patient’s cornea, among a variety of other equipment.

Lizzette Yearwood, CEO of the Health Services Authority, said the help of generous donors is always welcome. “We rely heavily on our donors for upgrades in our facilities and medical equipment as well as for continuing education for our staff, and I sincerely believe that their partnership is integral is us achieving our mission for health care here in the Cayman Islands,” she said.

She is confident that donations will not dry up now that the health authority is finally in the black. “I don’t think that our positive financial position last year will deter our donor partners in the least, because the high cost of health care is well known and successful hospitals all around the world rely on support from charitable organisations such as these,” she said.

Donations have come from a wide variety of groups and people who, for many reasons and in many ways, have eased the burden of the public purse paying for equipment that is vitally needed.

“Some of them have specific interests, for example, Lions Club regularly supports the Lions Eye Clinic, Rotary – one of our biggest donors – supports purchase of medical equipment, while others support education, for example, medical and nursing conferences,” Ms Yearwood said. Other charity groups like the Cayman Islands Cancer Society and the Cayman Heart Fund supply equipment or funds to the hospital that are directly related to the causes they support.

Soon, the new charitable trust called Caring For Life Foundation will act as a central point for fundraising for public health care in Cayman.

Bruce John, who works at Scotia Bank, has spearheaded the new trust, which is scheduled to launch in November.

Mr. John said he felt compelled to establish the foundation after reading about the financial difficulties the hospital faces and how people have to fly off Island for many treatments and diagnoses. He approached other business professionals and community leaders who shared his concerns, and with their assistance and the support of Scotia Bank, the foundation was formed.

“Speaking to people at the hospital, it was clear there was a need for new equipment. Looking at the government’s finances, there are so many demands on the government, not just for health care, but for education and infrastructure and social services,” he said.

“If we don’t invest in our health care system to improve the quality of health care for everyone, who will?” he asked.

The trust aims to raise funds for new equipment and technology, ongoing certification of medical professionals and research, leaving the government free to fund daily operations of the hospital. He said the hospital was in need of about $8.7 million.

“A lot of equipment at the hospital needs to be replaced. How do we attract top surgeons and professionals to work at the hospital if they are not provided with the best equipment?

How can we attract lawyers and accountants with their families to these islands if we don’t have a hospital they can be confident about? And tourists as well, when they come here, they want to make sure there is a good hospital if they have need to use it,” he said.

Mr. John has approached people in a variety of businesses and service clubs, as well as health officials, and the trust’s organising committee and board of advisors includes high-profile Caymanians and expatriates who want to see the best and most accessible health care possible on the Islands.

A donation earlier this year of $50,000 by Hedge Funds Care Cayman, a charitable organisation comprising hedge fund professionals that raises money to prevent and treat child abuse, led the hospital to hire a second child psychologist.

Co-chair of the Hedge Funds Care Cayman Grant Committee, Greg Bennett, said it was important for groups outside the public sector to be philanthropic. “Aside from the fact that members of an industry do not operate in isolation, and in fact depend to a great extent on the local community for support, the reality is that no government has the resources to fund everything.

Further, even if resources were not an issue, private monies are often used to fund innovative approaches, often driving improvements in approach and outcomes,” he said.

He encouraged other industries and private sector groups to take on worthy causes, especially in these times of difficult financial straits.

“During an economic downturn such as we have experienced over the last few years, government resources are further stretched and the most vulnerable members of society often suffer the most as a result. As such, this is a perfect time for industries, private sector groups and individuals that are able, to give something back to those less fortunate.”

Service Clubs have also long been supporters of the health-care system, working with the hospital to supply some much needed equipment.

Lori McRae, president of the Rotary Club of Grand Cayman said her club plans to donate two foetal monitors to the hospital this year.

“Government cannot do it all in terms of upgrading equipment and it needs community support,” Ms McRae said.

Perhaps the most visible result of community efforts in health care is Cayman Brac’s Faith Hospital. Completed in 1972, the hospital was erected on land donated by the late Captain Charles Kirkconnell and built by the labour, sweat and money of Brackers as there were no government funds available.

Although the hospital is now run by the Health Services Authority, the local community remains strongly invested in the hospital, as was evident when it was damaged in Hurricane Paloma in 2008. Local companies and people joined the Friends of Faith Hospital Group to give advice and support throughout the rebuilding of the hospital which was officially reopened in March this year.

Through the boom years and in these lean times, community support has played a major role in the health services, because as Mr. John put it, “Health is a priority for all of us. What good is wealth without health?”