By Hayden McKenna
On Sunday 17th September 2023, The Community Hospital of Seventh-day Adventist (TCH), in partnership with The University of the Southern Caribbean (USC), formally opened the TCH-USC Urgent Care Clinic, located opposite Gate 2 of the USC Main Campus on Maracas Royal Road, St. Joseph Trinidad. The opening was a significant community event for the people of Maracas Valley and environs and further afield. It involved an open-house type health fair where community and other attendees received the benefits of free vision and health screenings, consultations and nutrition and health and wellness counselling.
On the surface of it, this is a simple, seemingly non-newsworthy matter of a local private hospital becoming the operator of the university’s primary health care service. It is that, but in this case, it is so much more. What this joint-venture represents, is the first public showing of an emerging strategic, functional and sociable partnership between two aged and very experienced, community oriented, Seventh-day Adventist institutions in Trinidad and Tobago and by extension, the Caribbean Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.
The University of the Southern Caribbean, through its various names and stages, has been in existence since August 27th 1927. The Community Hospital – though officially opened on December 02, 1962, first admitted patients a few months before on September 17th 1962, seventeen days after Trinidad and Tobago became an independent nation. TCH is therefore the oldest existing private hospital in Trinidad and Tobago and September 17th, the date chosen for the opening of this clinic, is an important date in TCH’s history. USC and TCH when combined, can boast of a service legacy of more than 150 years in Trinidad and Tobago. The value of aggregating 150 years of multi-sector service experience in a society as diverse as Trinidad and Tobago is hard to overstate. This is what this emerging partnership brings to the market.
USC and TCH also have a shared philosophy, value-system and worldview. They are both Seventh-day Adventist institutions. Adventism at its core, teaches that education is inextricably connected to human redemption and restoration. It also teaches and health and wellness are the “right hand of the gospel” – no offense intended to the south-pawed. Education and health and wellness are inseparable parts to the human-redemption and restoration project in the Adventist worldview. This fundamental combination is a tried and tested formula. In the very Adventist-influenced Loma Linda University community in San Bernardino, California for instance, research shows that where these factors are strongly combined, residents on average, live for up to ten years longer than the national average. Loma Linda for this reason, is the sole blue zone community in the USA. Can the USC-TCH partnership in Maracas Valley be nascent brush-strokes-of-blue-zoning in miracle valley? Maybe.
The presence of a well-staffed first-class medical clinic, backed by the resources of TCH, offers to USC students, faculty and staff and the communities of the Maracas Valley and its environs, the security of a readily accessible urgent and preventative healthcare facility. According to TCH’s Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Stephen Carryl, the location and context of this Maracas Valley clinic, have already attracted meaningful discussions with the Ministry of Health about the provision of services to special niches of the wider population of the country.
Apart from the clinic, the USC-TCH partnership will also result in the strengthening of the practical elements of USC’s existing and emerging curricula in the areas of Nurse Education, Allied Health, Occupational Therapy, Social Work, Business Management and even Computer Science, through the offer of internships to USC students and other forms of mutually beneficial engagements. This has already begun and will be deepened in the medium and the long terms. Referencing TCH’s present efforts to digitize all of their medical records for instance, Dr. Carryl pointed out that a project such as this, would be a fertile place for students of Computer Science and IT to see such a process play-out and to participate in the same. Dr. Carryl envisions TCH and USC having a strategic relationship where “USC students would have a home at TCH where they could come here and rotate”. TCH can emerge as a teaching hospital for USC students.
The USC-TCH partnership will also create a robust research ecosystem on matters of interest to both institutions, the nation and the region. Building capacity in this area, is critically important to a post-colonial region of the world, whose populations continue to present live artefacts of a difficult past, manifested in epidemics of obesity, chronic non-communicable diseases, high rates of alcohol consumption and endangered mental wellbeing.
Backstory: God’s Will and a Cedar Hall ‘Bromance’
With all of these compelling reasons for co-operation, the question of why this is happening now and not before, is difficult to dodge. The default answer for people of our faith tradition, is that nothing good happens outside of God’s willing and out of sequence with the fullness of time.
In July of 2021 and June of 2022 respectively, while the world, our region and nation were still grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic, both USC and TCH experienced transitions in top leadership. Dr. Colwick Wilson was appointed President of USC and Dr. Stephen Carryl was appointed the Chief Executive Officer of TCH. These two visionary leaders have a long ‘bromantic’ history with each other.
The back-story is that they have maintained a close mutually supportive friendship for more than forty years. They both entered Caribbean Union College (now the University of the Southern Caribbean) in 1979 as Theology Majors and lodged together, at the famous Cedar Hall. As “Noble Spartans’ of that famous residence hall, their early friendship would most probably have been negotiated over shared meals and sack-lunches, worship services, chapels and weeks of prayer, and a miscellany of other joys and irritants of dorm life. Indeed, it was at a Graduation Ceremony they witnessed together that Colwick intimated to Stephen his special attraction to the President’s regalia, especially the gown with its unique four-stripped festooning on its sleeve. Hmmm.
Though these classmates were separated when Dr. Carryl switched his focus to Biology and departed for Oakwood College (now Oakwood University) in 1981, they both sustained their mutual friendship and never lost touch, despite their divergent career paths. Dr. Wilson graduated from CUC with his Theology degree in 1983, pastored briefly in Guyana and in 1986 migrated to the United States to further his education in the Social Sciences. This he did to the level of a terminal PhD degree, which he received from the University of Michigan. Dr. Wilson has enjoyed a fruitful academic and leadership career at prestigious institutions in the US, including the University of Michigan, Loma Linda University, The Kettering Health Network and most recently, he held the Provostship at Oakwood University.
Dr Carryl, after completing his baccalaureate degree at Oakwood, went on to Loma Linda University School of Medicine, where he earned an MD. His education and career journey also includes a Master of Health Administration (MHA) from the University of Southern California, Surgical Internship and Residency at the Brookdale University Medical Center in Brooklyn, New York. Dr Carryl is a board-certified surgeon with expertise in Laparoscopic Surgery, Bariatric Surgery and Robotic Surgery. He rose to the position of Chairman of Surgery, Chief of Perioperative Services and Director of Bariatric Surgery at Harlem Hospital Center, before taking on the less lucrative job as CEO of TCH.
When directly asked about what prompted the partnership between USC and TCH at this moment, Dr Carryl characterised it as “divinely inspired”. Referring to his enduring friendship of over forty years with Dr. Wilson and the coincidence of both of them being back in Trinidad and Tobago at the same time to lead two significant Adventist institutions, Dr. Carryl conceded that “we know we weren’t smart enough to orchestrate something like this”.
Dr. Wilson in responding separately to the same question, said that “it was Spirit-led. I really think God’s Spirit was speaking to him as He was speaking to me at the same time”. Dr. Wilson shared that when Dr. Carryl came to Trinidad to take up duty at TCH, they were house-mates at the President’s Residence on the campus of USC. They would almost nightly have dinner together – Dr. Wilson doing most of the cooking – and they would talk about the challenges and opportunities facing their organizations. This led to a clarity that co-operation could create a whole that was greater than the sum of the parts. They began with the easier things. TCH was engaged to run USC’s health care service. This partnership would later become more organized and focused. There was the selection of a joint leadership team and a thoughtful expansion of the menu of services to be offered. Informal conversations at a cricket tournament organized by USC for the Maracas Valley community and the expression by villagers of the need for an accessible clinic in the area, added refinement to and popular confirmation of the rectitude of a plan already in train. The TCH-USC Urgent Care Clinic is the maturation of that process that most probably began with a conversation between two friends over a meal that Dr. Wilson claims to have cooked.
TCH’s Present Trajectory
Dr. Carryl speaks with a persuasive passion of the intention to aggressively pursue initiatives to re-establish TCH as “a premier provider of quality healthcare in Trinidad”. According to Dr. Carryl, there are three deliverables that form the basis of TCH’s present focus They are: Quality healthcare, good patient experience and affordability.
TCH medical staff boasts of highly qualified surgeons, specialists and physicians. The Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Damaris Baptiste-Sylvester for instance is a Consultant Obstetrician-Gynaecologist and Gynaecologist-Oncologist trained in the Caribbean, North America, and the UK. For good measure, she is also a USC alumna.
TCH is one of only a few hospitals in the Caribbean that now operates an in-patient rehabilitation clinic, particularly directed at victims of stroke. This service is led by US-trained and certified Trinidadian Dr. Gerard Antoine. With several decades of experience with the US military, Dr. Antoine is the only rehabilitation physician in Trinidad.
There is also a drive to ensure that TCH is on the cutting edge of modern diagnostic and medical technology. Dr. Carryl said that if there are 100 things you should expect from a modern hospital, TCH must be able to do no less than 90 of those things. Significant capital investments are being made to upgrade the hospital’s capacity in this area.
Under Dr. Carryl’s leadership, TCH developed and implemented a programme that is unique among private hospitals in the country and perhaps the anglophone Caribbean. Through a Behavioural and Mental Health Department, every patient that visits TCH gets a psycho-social assessment to ascertain what else is happening in their lives that needs to be addressed apart from their medical condition. This programme is led by Dr. Joanne Williams-Carryl a Social Worker and Therapist and the spouse of Dr. Stephen Carryl. This special department and unique programme have created valuable opportunities for internships for USC’s Social Work Majors. This approach will also be brought to the TCH-USC Urgent Care Clinic.
Dr. Carryl describes the healthcare sector in Trinidad and Tobago as a “productive place” for private operators. He pointed out that the costing of services at TCH is consistently below prevailing market rates. This allows for TCH to price its services in a way to achieve profitability and growth without taking away affordability from customers. “We are not mercenaries. We are not in the business of losing money but we do not have to make the most money” he said. This approach has attracted insurance companies that are excited to work with TCH and bench mark some of their products based on TCH’s pricing structures. TCH is also unashamed of its Adventist ethos and sees it as a differential advantage that sets it apart from its competitors.
Commenting specifically on the TCH-USC Urgent Care Clinic and what it means, Dr. Carryl said he sees the clinic as an extension of the main hospital into the valley. It is consistent with TCH’s strategy to expand its footprint in Trinidad and Tobago. He described the clinic as “the down-payment on an investment in this community”.
As USC moves towards marking the first 100 years of its existence in 2027, it is delighted that at this critical time of its own transformation, it has found in TCH, an equally progressive, values-compatible, well-led partner. The TCH-USC Urgent Care Clinic is a signal manifestation of great things to come for both institutions and the publics they serve.