The forcible take-over of the Nakuru War Memorial Hospital by the Nakuru County government on Friday night introduces a fresh twist in the 50-year controversy surrounding ownership of the facility.
The latest move marks yet another blow in the protracted dispute between the government and the hospital board over ownership.
Hours before the take-over, the hospital’s board of directors led by the chairman, Roger Joslyn, had condemned what it termed as unwarranted interference with the affairs of the hospital by the county government.
The county yesterday shut down the hospital after 101 years of operations. Samwel Mwaura, the County Secretary said the facility was treating 18 patients under different levels of care.
Although the Nakuru War Memorial Hospital ownership was previously vested in Nakuru War Memorial Hospital Trust which was registered owner of the land, it was in recent years being managed by a private company limited by guarantee.
The previous firm had accommodated the provincial medical officer of health and the then provincial commissioner in the board.
Other board members who attended the press conference included Malcom Bell and Dr Simon Mwangi, who served as the spokesman. Two other board members; Dr Shanti Haria and Lord Delamere were absent.
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The more than century old health facility has 44 wards and attends to close to 60 patients daily, and has 200 workers and five resident doctors.
The hospital, which occupies 25 acres of prime land, is located in the upmarket Mlimani Estate, a few hundred metres from State House, Nakuru.
The hospital is the leading private health facility in the South Rift region and has over the years been the facility of choice for senior government officers, business executives and prominent members of the society in the region.
The hospital’s first brush with danger was in 1972 when the founding President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta verbally ordered that part of the private facility’s building be taken over by the government for the establishment of a public health facility.
However, high-level political intrigues and power games involving some influential government officials and white settlers obstructed the legal process that would have seen the government fully take over the hospital.
Despite the presidential directive, the government did not formalise the annexation, therefore the buildings and the land remain the property of the Nakuru War Memorial Hospital which legally owned the title.
A retired civil servant, who did not wish to be named in this article, said the European settlers who were angered by the presidential directive regrouped and quietly lobbied the then Attorney General Charles Njonjo who was sympathetic to their plight.
The officer said Sir Michael Blundell and his team of European settlers enjoyed cordial relationship with Mr Njonjo. He further said that a petition by a section of Nakuru leaders to have the government take over the hospital was submitted to the then Minister for Health, Mr Isaac Omolo Okero.
The petition was prepared and pushed by the former powerful Rift Valley Provincial Commissioner Isaiah Mathenge, and backed by local administrators and politicians, said the officer.
According the source, the Mathenge team wanted a total takeover of the hospital hence the clash with Njonjo.
“Mr Njonjo did not give any directive to commence the legal process of annexing the hospital, and that is how Nakuru War Memorial Hospital ended up retaining the title for the whole land, and technically owning the building,” the retired officer added.
A leading Nakuru medical practitioner, Dr Isoe Ochoki, who practiced at the Nakuru PGH Annexe and War Memorial Hospital, told the Sunday Standard that he gathered from his seniors that Mr Njonjo objected to the take-over of the hospital by the government as leaders demanded.
Following the presidential directive, the hospital was divided into two. The annexed part was renamed Nakuru Provincial General Hospital (PGH) Annex, a public facility attached to the government owned provincial hospital.
The hospital had two wings that were connected by one roof, with the government taking over the portion that had a one storey building, leaving the other portion to the Nakuru War Memorial Hospital.
President Kenyatta’s action was prompted by a petition submitted by a network of influential government officials in Nakuru, who opined that the facility was under-utilised and inaccessible to Africans.
A former chief in Nakuru Municipality, Benjamin Wambugu said there was a feeling amongst senior government officials in Nakuru that the amenity wing at the Rift Valley Provincial General Hospital (PGH) was small and did not offer the kind of privacy commensurate with their status.
PGH, Wambugu added, also needed to be expanded to cater for the increasing number of people seeking treatment at the facility.
He said civil servants felt that War Memorial Hospital was expensive for them. According to records obtained from the hospital, at the time of the split, the overnight bed charges ranged around Sh120 while physiotherapy charges were Sh20.
The hospital has an open field between State House and Lenana School that Wambugu recalls was used as a parking bay and holding place for delegations visiting State House.
“Choirs like the Nyakinyua dancers who were the favourite for the late President Jomo Kenyatta, and school choirs assembled at the field and practiced their songs before performing in front of the president,” he recalled.
Wambugu further said the opening up of the public institutions to all citizens was also part of the integration and harmonisation process in order to create social cohesion and stability in the newly independent State.
Available government records indicate that the institution which was established in 1921 was named Nakuru War Memorial Hospital to honour those who died in the First World War.
Throughout the colonial period, the hospital catered for the medical needs of the European settlers and continued to serve the elite section of the society upon independence.
On Thursday, Dr Mwangi and the other board members said they had experienced difficulties in having the lease renewed as some influential government officials had written a letter to the lands officer about five years ago objecting to the hospital being issued with a new lease.
Mwangi added that previous attempts to have the PGH Annex Hospital pay rent to War Memorial Hospital had been snubbed by both the national and county governments.
“There is however a time when we received peanuts from the government as rent, but they did it only once,” Mwangi said.
The board members further said that officials from the county government had a few months ago stopped the hospital from constructing a furnace for burning waste, yet it received approval from the same government.
The board members said they had been angered by a report authored by the Nakuru County Assembly’s land committee which demanded that the executive take measures and secure title deed for the PGH Annex Hospital.
The Nakuru War Memorial Hospital board members said the county government had no authority to hive off the land and issue title to the Annex Hospital.
The board said the lease, which expired in 2021, had been renewed in Nairobi Lands office for a further 50 years. Mwangi said the Nakuru County Assembly had previously passed a resolution urging the Executive to take over the Memorial Hospital.
“We engaged the county executive which was headed by the then Nakuru governor Lee Kinyanjui on the matter, but we did not reach a concrete conclusion though we explained our position that we own the title to the land. The county government did not however take over the hospital,” Mwangi added.