Multimillion-shilling hospitals remain empty as patients suffer

Sunday June 16 2019

Referral Hospitals

A photo of Kenyatta University Teaching, Referral and Research Hospital taken on May 24, 2019. It is not yet operational. PHOTO | MARY WAMBUI | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

NATION TEAM
By NATION TEAM
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Hundreds of health facilities that cost the taxpayer millions of shillings to construct remain unused several years later, forcing thousands of Kenyans to travel long distances in search of medical attention.

Interviews with various stakeholders in the affected institutions blamed the situation on myriad factors, including lack of political goodwill, land ownership tussles, shortage of trained personnel to run the institutions and outright corruption.

A case in point is Kenya’s sixth national referral facility, the 600-bed Kenyatta University Teaching, Referral and Research Hospital, which remains idle two years after its completion due to an ownership and management dispute. The public university has insisted on owning it.

The hospital’s acting chief executive officer, Dr Jacob Toro, on Saturday maintained that plans to commence services at the hospital in August are well on course.

STATE AGENCY

He told Sunday Nation that despite a few minimal administrative hitches that they have experienced, all efforts geared towards commencing operations are in progress.

“There may be normal administrative hitches here and there but we are well on schedule. So far so good. We are working towards having the soft launch as scheduled earlier. If there are any changes, we shall let the public know; but at the moment the deadline of August still remains,” said Dr Toro.

He added that hiring of staff is set to begin soon after positions are advertised within the next two weeks.

Health Cabinet Secretary Sicily Kariuki, while announcing the appointment of Dr Toro as acting CEO, said the hospital will be an independent State corporation which will be run by a board chaired by Prof Olive Mugenda.

The board is expected to come up with an inauguration date within a month. “The board is under no obligation to take over any persons who have been working in the background because we want you to have a freehand in the operations of the facility. Any subsequent secondment of staff to the facility will be done by the board with concurrence from the Ministry of Health,” Ms Kariuki said.

DECONGESTION

The hospital has 28 intensive care unit (ICU) beds and a neonatal intensive care unit.

It is expected to help decongest Kenyatta National Hospital whose bed capacity has remained flat at 1,800 over the years despite demand ballooning to an annual average of 700,000 for inpatients and 600,000 for outpatients.

The Cabinet Secretary said the facility will also be one of the centres of excellence for cancer management in the country.

In Nyeri and Murang’a counties, health facilities constructed using taxpayer’s funds are yet to deliver services due to financial difficulties and supremacy battles among politicians.

For instance, the Sh1 billion Othaya Level Six Hospital is yet to open its doors to the public nine years later.

The 350-bed health facility was commissioned by then-President Mwai Kibaki in 2010 and was scheduled to be complete by October 2012, but it was hit by a cash crisis, forcing the Jubilee government to inject in more money.

RECRUITMENT

The project was a campaign agenda in both the 2013 and 2017 elections, with contestants vowing to ensure its completion.

Its opening date has been postponed numerously. In November 2016, President Uhuru Kenyatta inspected the facility and expressed his displeasure over the delay in commencing operations.

He announced that the government had released an additional Sh300 million towards its completion. The initial budget was Sh700 million.

Recently, area MP Gichuki Mugambi announced that the government was in the process of recruiting doctors and other staff for the hospital.

“The hospital will be serving at least seven of the neighbouring counties. Recruitment of doctors will be complete by July, this year. The sewerage system will also be extended to Othaya town,” said Mr Mugambi.

Nyeri Governor Mutahi Kahiga said the devolved unit had transferred administration and management of the hospital to the national government following its elevation to level six status.

In November last year, Health Principal Secretary Peter Tum toured the facility and said it would be opened before the end of that year.

POLITICS

He also said the ministry was in the process of posting specialised doctors in various fields to save patients from travelling to far-flung areas and overseas to seek health services.

In Murang'a, most dispensaries and health centres built with National Government Constituency Development Funds (NGCDF) are yet to be opened due to political tiffs between MPs and their rivals.

County health officials accuse sitting MPs of refusing to complete or operationalise health facilities started by their predecessors.

Seventeen health centres and dispensaries are yet to be operationalised. “The biggest challenge is when the MP who initiated the project is not re-elected. When a new MP takes over, he abandons the project due to fear of audit queries and this proves difficult to us to take over,” says the county Health executive Joseph Mbai.

However, even after former Kangema MP Tirus Ngahu completed the construction of Kangema Level Four Hospital and a morgue in 2016, it took the devolved unit two years to operationalise it, with observers citing supremacy battles between the devolved unit and the MPs.

In Nyandarua County, residents of Kaimabaga Ward in Ol Kalou constituency are yet to access services at Gichungo Dispensary 14 years after its construction, forcing the community to seek treatment at JM Memorial Hospital, more than 10 kilometres away.

Stories by Mary Wambui, Joseph Wangui, Ndung’u Gachane and Waikwa Maina