Opinion: The promise of a state of the art hospital for St. Maarten

POSTED: 07/17/14 4:42 PM

Okay, it is election time and if you want to get the people’s attention, you need a carrot. A big one, if you are able to find it. The United People’s party found such a carrot: the promise to build a brand new state of the art hospital.

Let us not start by doubting the sincere intentions of the green party. If they say they want to build a brand new hospital, that is probably true. Whether this will really happen is – of course – a completely different matter. And whether this will improve healthcare is – for now – questionable at best.

Voters who do not dive too deep under the surface of this advanced medical thinking might conclude: a new hospital? Wow, I want that. Who would be against a new hospital, against a new something that we all may need sooner or later in our lives?

It is easy to imagine how a part of the electorate is relishing the thought of seeing this happen. A brand new hospital, something the country can be proud of, a place where you do not have to be afraid receiving bad or inadequate treatment.

The reality is of course – and here we side with Public Health Minister De Weever – that a new building alone is not going to do anything to improve the level of healthcare on the island. Hospitals need equipment – and that is expensive – and they need specialists – and those boys and girls ain’t cheap either. And that is okay. To fish up an old quote from MP Leroy de Weever, citing Chinese wisdom in an old Island council meeting: “good no cheap, cheap no good.”

If we want something good, we’ll have to pay for it. Given the financial situation the island finds itself in it makes sense to be careful about the way the available dollars are spent.

The hospital – based on the information on its web site – is still in the mood for an expansion of its current facility. The site does not talk about a new hospital at all.

Minister de Weever does not want to hear about a complete new hospital either. He looks not just at buildings, he looks at the overall quality of healthcare.

If you are unable to run the facility you have properly, what is the point of putting up a new building? That is a very valid question from the minister. Investing in changing the mindset of the people that are supposed to provide the care, or discussing bottlenecks with those who organize the care, makes more sense than wasting energy on a building where the people that are now working in the St. marten Medical Center are doing the same stuff they are already doing right now.

Why then that sudden hype about a new hospital? Is it just the need for a new and grandiose project? Is it an election-gimmick to wrong-foot prospective voters? Is it to satisfy egos that are too large for their own good? Or is it, maybe, a combination of all of these factors.

Right now, we do not have all the answers, but they will be forthcoming sooner or later. We know for sure that all of our “first-class citizens” who fly at the first sign of trouble to a foreign hospital cannot be convinced that the current level of healthcare in St. Maarten is up to standards. Otherwise, they would undergo their treatment here.

What makes sense right now is cooling all heels, taking a step back and thinking this whole thing through thoroughly. We have the impression that the ministry of public health is already doing this. Rushing into an adventure with a building that looks good but that does not do anything to uplift the level of healthcare could cost us a lot of money without a perspective on any meaningful return on investment.

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