Utila Divided

April 1st, 2006
by Thomas Tomczyk

[private]

For three-and-half weeks Utila's Community Health Center remained closed.</h5>
For three-and-half weeks Utila’s Community Health Center remained closed.

Utilans split over who should control the “Lance Bodden Community Health Center” while the Clinic’s Committee members – who for four years helped to create, build and pay for the clinic and doctors’ salaries – find themselves less relevant in a changing reality. Many Utilans accuse National and Liberal party activists of politicizing the clinic issue and while fighting amongst themselves, the community has managed to lose a clear voice about the Clinic’s future in front of the central government.

The controversy surfaced in early January, during a meeting called by newly arrived clinic director: Dr. Matilda Medina. The meeting was held despite objections from Mayor Alton Cooper and another “Clinic Internal Help Committee” was chosen. Julia Keller, 34, a local businessperson was chosen as its president.

The situation escalated further on January 25, when after the swearing in ceremony, Mayor Alton Cooper and several Liberal Party activists marched to the clinic and persuaded Dr. Medina to leave the premises of the clinic, where she practiced and lived. “I understand their frustration and I don’t feel angry,” said Dr. Medina who moved to a Country Side apartment where for three-and-half weeks she continued to see patients while the clinic remained closed.

A few days later, during a town meeting, a new Clinic Committee was chosen and Lance Bodden was reelected as the Clinic’s president. According to Bodden, whose name the clinic bears, the worst case scenario is if central government keeps full control of the clinic, and fails at efficiently providing healthcare to Utila citizens. Bodden says that many potential clinic donors will not donate to a clinic completely under government control.

In 2005 FHIS (Fondo HondureƱo de Inversion Social), along with smaller private donations, paid for the construction of the clinic. Now the salaries of clinic staff are paid by Honduras’ Ministry of Health.

Many Utilans, including Clinic Committee member Patrick Flynn, believe that an initial agreement about the clinic guaranteed a cooperation of central government and the Clinic Committee to be overseen by Utila’s Mayor. What they found out during a meeting with the Vice-minister of Health, Bay Islands health director and Congressman Jerry Hynds, is that the government has almost full control of the clinic. “If I knew then what I found out at the Roatan meeting, I would have never donated the land,” said Patrick Flynn who in 2002 donated land that the clinic was built on.

The big question however, is who in the Maduro Health Ministry changed the rules of the Utila Health Center administration, or who on Utila, if anyone, knew about the change, and didn’t inform the community about it.

While the clinic will remain open for a 60 day “transitional period” until May 30, consultation fees were set to match those on the mainland: Lps. 2 for a visit and Lps. 6 for emergency visit. The fees are expected to be increased on June 1. [/private]

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