St. Maarten minister De Weever says Government working with SMMC to secure growth financing


PHILIPSBURG--Government has been working with the St. Maarten Medical Center (SMMC) to help the institution secure financing for its much-needed and long-awaited expansion.

Health Minister Cornelius de Weever told television personality Oral Gibbes on his Tuesday evening television programme that government "has been there all along" assisting the hospital. He said he had met with SMMC Director Dr. George Scot and the board "numerous times" and that he was likely to meet with them again yesterday, Wednesday.

SMMC officials as well as the Windward Islands Health Care Union Association recently highlighted the need for government to support the hospital's expansion, which has been in the pipeline for several years now. SMMC Manager Patient Care/Education Coordinator Tony Pantophlet and Human Resources/Communications Manager Juliëtte Hassell had told this newspaper recently that the lengthy delay in the "critical" expansion was stifling the country's only medical centre from moving forward and adequately preparing for the island's growing population.

De Weever said on the television programme that at one point during his discussions with SMMC officials, it had been mentioned that banks were unwilling to completely finance SMMC's expansion to the tune of US $20 million without a "letter of guarantee" from government. He said Deputy Prime Minister Theo Heyliger had, at one point, arranged for him to meet with the Central Bank to discuss financing. The possibility of "floating a bond" for the medical centre had been discussed, at the time.

De Weever said if government had taken the bond, it would have been for a low interest rate, but this would have reduced government's borrowing capacity. If SMMC had taken the bond, he said, the hospital would have to pay a "slightly higher" interest rate, but government would have maintained its borrowing capacity, "but it was something that was feasible."

De Weever said: "Parties have been meeting. They have been going through their negotiations and we have also discussed the possibilities of SZV [Social and Health Insurance-Ed.] also investing in SMMC. SZV was one party that was interested. [A pension fund-Ed.] was also considering the possibility of it as well and then there was a balance of 2 or 3 million that government said we were willing to [finance-Ed.) and if not, there were other banks that were also willing to do it. Technically we have been there all along, assisting."

In the meantime, Pantophlet and Hassell had told this newspaper in a recent interview that the hospital was "bursting out of the walls right now," awaiting the expansion.

SMMC was designed 20 years ago to cater to a population of 24,000, almost half the current registered population of just over 51,000. This does not take into account the unregistered population as well as persons from French St. Martin, neighbouring islands and tourists, who use SMMC.

The two SMMC officials had said at the time that SMMC's challenges included not having sufficient rooms and facilities to accommodate patients and additional specialists.

Pantophlet had said there were only three rooms in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and sometimes there were as many as eight ICU patients to be tended to. In cases like these, SMMC has to put the additional ICU patients in another ward and monitor them via telemetry devices. Telemetry is a technology that allows remote measurement and transparent conveyance of remote information. "There are some patients who are required to go on telemetries, but if you have three patients in the ICU and have two others coming in to go on a ventilator, then you have to go outside, but you have to monitor them still, so you can monitor them from the ICU, but we want to expand the ICU to six beds," Pantophlet had said.

SMMC is also limited in the number of specialists it can attract because of the limited space.
Three years ago, a team of visiting specialists, who conducted a training course here, had emphasised the need for SMMC to be upgraded, Pantophlet said. The specialists were back here recently, and there has not been any progress with the expansion.

The hospital is also recording high staff turnover, due in part to the expansion not getting off the ground.

The urgent need for government support for the expansion was stressed to Members of Parliament during a recent meeting with SMMC.