Darville on Heads of agreement signed for a 64 million development of an off shore medical school in Grand Bahama

Sen. Michael Darville

Yesterday (21 October 2019) the Bahamas Government signed a Heads of Agreement with a newly formed entity called Western Atlantic University School of Medicine Ltd. to establish and operate a School of Medicine in Freeport.

According to the press release the university intends to invest some 64 million dollars in Grand Bahama over the next ten years and hopefully create hundreds of construction jobs and some long-term employment opportunities.

The purposed 98,000 sq. ft university campus will be built in phases over a decade on leased land owned by the Public Hospital’s Authority.

The Progressive Liberal Party welcomes any major investment project for Grand Bahama that would stimulate that economy.  

Without a doubt, this announcement raises more questions than answers and requires much clarification. For example, CEO Peter Goetz stated that his initial attempt to establish a medical school in The Bahamas was frustrated and thwarted by political interference. This statement is patently untrue and unfortunate. The PLP government (the Cabinet) made its decisions based on the professional and technical advice of its team, including the Bahamas Investment Board and the Bahamas Medical Council. Mr. Goetz must clarify his ill-advised statement.

It is important to note that during our last administration, we entertained similar proposals from at least three groups interested in establishing similar education facilities on Grand Bahama after the closure of Ross University. All of the groups failed to satisfy the full requirements of the Bahamas Investment Authority (BIA) and the accreditation protocols of the Bahamas Medical Council (BMC). The BMC advised that if we as a government proceeded with any of these proposals, none of the professional degrees conferred by these institutions would be recognized or accepted in the Bahamas.

Further, this purposed medical school was recently in-cooperated with no known track record of performance, a physical campus or teaching hospital anywhere in the world. Further, the government’s press release failed to outline any reputable affiliates. This purposed private university currently holds no accreditation with any regional or international body, but they intend to train doctors from around the world to meet international standards.

On the face of it, the above factors undermine the integrity of the proposed institution and the credibility of the government’s Heads of Agreement. In order to correct these inherent problems, the investors intend to apply to the Caribbean Accreditation Authority for Education in Medicine and other health professional accreditation bodies to validate its existence prior to accepting students.

This is putting the cart before the horse and the Bahamas Government is coming across as desperate, lazy and sloppy in its due diligence.

The above along with medical education finances were the principal reasons for the failure of Ross University.

We note the recent visit of the Health Minister to Grand Bahama where he addressed the status of the Rand Memorial Hospital. Dr. Sands told the staff that the government was fiscally challenged and that there was no plan for the construction of a new hospital at the green field site.

This revelation raises additional questions, specifically:

1.    Where would the medical students receive their practical training?

2.    Where is the signed MOU between the university and the Ministry of Health?

3.    What is the status of our ongoing medical training program with the University of the West Indies? 

 In light of the foregoing, did the BMC, the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health participate in the negotiations?

Since this announcement, many healthcare professionals have contacted me to express concern, especially over the university’s recent incorporation. In the interest of transparency, we eagerly await the release of the Heads of Agreement as promised by this government.

We remind the FNM that governments are elected to protect the public interest and conducting the necessary due diligence on all investment proposals and investors is necessary to protect the country’s international reputation. The government must clarify the concerns being expressed about this proposal.