Minister Lee: St. Maarten looking to establish high quality norms for health care with Aruba and Curaçao

Minister of Health, Social Affairs and Labour Emil Lee


PHILIPSBURG – Minister of Public Health, Social Development and Labor Emil Lee addressed members of the media in Wednesday’s, July 26, Council of Ministers Press Briefing.

First, Minister Lee informed that he’d just returned from Curaçao where “we had excellent meetings about health care as we’re working on building the new hospital. As everyone has always said the hospital is just a building, we need to make sure that the quality of our health care system is up to par once starting.” In addition to St. Maarten, at that meeting were also the Ministers of Health from Aruba, and Curaçao.

“We went with a good sized delegation from each of the countries…and shared our best practices and our mistakes, our lessons learned with each other, so that we can do a better job, and hopefully more economically and more efficiently,” the Minister informed.

“We all have similar problems, small countries, small economy of scales, limited human resource budgets, limited human resources, and limited financial budgets and we’re all looking to accomplish the same goal, which is to deliver the best quality of care that we can for our people, and so we had two days of intense meetings, and as an outcome from this meeting, we believe that it was good to agree on clear ways forward and so we’ve signed a collaboration document to really document where we are going forward,” the Minister continued.

Some of the elements that were agreed to, after break-out sessions were: collaboration on centers of excellence; training exercises and exchange of personnel; each of the hospitals becoming a Center of Excellence, with all the hospitals working towards JCI accreditation as a standard.

“The hospitals’ protocol should be as similar as possible. It makes transitioning or exchanging of patients, referral of patients smoother, but also legislation, also logistics, all of those are areas that they’re working on in terms of safety and quality and obviously procurement,” Minister Lee explained.

Other areas discussed were: money spent on pharmaceuticals; synchronizing and purchasing the same brand of equipment, which “makes it easier to find better quality technicians to service and hopefully we can leverage our purchasing power.” Also, the Minister said, “Ideally I’d love to work towards one software program for each of the hospitals. Again just making things more efficient.”

There was already a cooperation agreement between Aruba and Curaçao for their public health insurance companies. During this trip, St. Maarten was added to that cooperation agreement.

“For example, just exchanging data in terms of people that are on the lists of SZV, but actually have moved perhaps to Curaçao that information wasn’t really being shared, and now hopefully it would allow the insurance company to have a more up to date and accurate list,” the Minister explained.

Where medical referrals are concerned, “We need to find a way to make sure that the patients can be treated locally with high quality of care and that money is money that would circulate within our economy rather than being sent abroad. So that creates jobs, it creates turnover. It’s just the right way to go, but again as we benchmark our referral programs against those of Aruba and Curaçao,” which are lower.

According to the Minister, the Department of Health has three priorities: formalizing an agreement mandating that the policy departments responsible for public health in the islands join forces for the implementation of short, medium, and long-term activities regarding policy and legislation; Working on lifestyle programs like addressing some issues with the way the health bus is being run in St. Maarten in terms of the results; Establishing high quality norms for health care institutions and medical professionals, and trying to balance these norms against the three islands.

“In other words, each of these islands should work towards an equivalent set of norms in terms of quality standards for health care institutions. In particular, the hospitals standardizing establishment procedures for specialists. Each of the islands we believe should try and synchronize, and would also make it much easier for example, when we need replacement physicians, that if we can just draw simply from Aruba and Curaçao without all of the cumbersome approval processes, this would make it much easier for us to access specialists when we need them. And also in cases where specialists are on vacation, this would allow a fill-in to come in much easier than it happens right now,” Minister Lee stated.

October 26-27, have been established as the dates for the next Ministers of Health meeting, which will be held here in St. Maarten. “So this is medical tourism, this is representatives from Aruba and Curaçao coming to visit our country an opportunity to show them how we do things in St. Maarten, and how we can learn from each other’s experiences,” the Minister concluded.