PHILIPSBURG–Health authorities in St. Maarten, Aruba and Curaçao are expected to collaborate and work closer in several areas, thanks to a cooperation and collaboration agreement the health ministers of the three destinations signed recently.
The agreement was signed after two days of “intense” meetings amongst the three ministers and their respective delegations in Curaçao recently.
Health Minister Emil Lee told reporters at the weekly Council of Ministers press briefing on Wednesday, that there was a “good sized” delegation from the hospital, Ministry of Health and public health insurance company of each of the islands present, and representatives of each broke out into groups and met on their respective areas.
He outlined some of the areas of collaboration outlined in the agreement. The three destinations agreed to cooperate on making their hospitals “centres of excellence.” Lee said the hospitals in each of the three countries are focusing on particular areas of care. Curaçao for example, has a developed neonatal Intensive Care Unit, and is looking at the various islands to send their patients in need of such care to its facility.
Both Curaçao and Aruba, he explained are also working on a linear accelerator treatment for cancer, which is very costly. While Lee questions whether the islands (Aruba and Curaçao) have the population to sustain this, given their proximity, they are looking to specialize in this area.
The islands are looking at how to cooperate, offer more support and compete less amongst each other. Training exercises and exchange of personnel were also areas of discussion to make the hospitals on each island centres of excellence.
He said also that the hospitals on the three islands have agreed to work on Joint Commission International (JCI) accreditation. “This means that we are all trying to use the same standards as we move forward, which is excellent, as we share our resources. This looks also at the protocols the hospitals are using. Since we are referring patients between hospitals, the protocols should be as similar as possible to make the exchange and referral of patients smoother.”
Legislation and logistics are other areas of cooperation. Lee said hospitals have highly- sensitive equipment, and if the three countries can synchronize their efforts and purchase the same brand equipment, it could be easier to find better quality technicians to service them. The countries can also leverage their purchasing power to get best bargains this way.
Software is another area included in the agreement. According to Lee, managing patient data is extremely expensive, and all hospitals have stories of the troubles they encounter with software programmes. Lee would love it if the hospitals on the three islands can work with one software programme “to make things more efficient.”
As it relates to public health insurance companies, a cooperation agreement already exists between Aruba and Curaçao for public health insurance companies. “During this trip, St. Maarten was added to that cooperation agreement. It’s a small step, but actually yields big results very quickly. For example, just exchanging data for people who are on the list for SZV [Social Health Insurance] who moved to Curaçao – this information wasn’t being shared and hopefully this would allow insurance companies to have a more up-to-date and accurate list,” the minister said.
In the area of medical referrals, Lee said the referrals for both Curaçao and Aruba are “much lower” than St. Maarten. “It shows that we (St. Maarten) are on the right track with building a new hospital to make sure that patients are treated locally with high- quality care,” he said. “As we benchmark the referral process with those of Aruba and Curaçao, we can see the lessons learned, and we are looking at referring patients to the same hospitals with the idea of bulking our purchases together to get the best value for our dollar.”
The islands are also looking at formalizing an agreement, mandating the Policy Departments responsible for public health on their respective islands to join forces for the implementation of short-, medium- and long-term activities regarding policy and legislation. Lee said the objective of this is determining how the three islands can share what they already have, and which elements can be “borrowed.” Some of the programmes that caught Lee’s interest are Aruba’s Health Bus, which is “running very well” and Curaçao’s programme on reproductive health. He said Aruba can share information on how it is running its Health Bus programme, so that St. Maarten can modify its health bus for maximum results, and St. Maarten can learn from Curaçao how to advise persons about sexual education, and in particular working on reducing teen pregnancies, which Lee said is needed in St. Maarten.
Another area of cooperation is establishing high-quality norms for health care institutions and health care professionals. “We are looking to balance the norms among the three islands. The islands should work towards an equivalent set of norms, in particular the hospitals…Each island should try and synchronise. It would make it easier if we need replacement professionals; it would make it easier for us to access specialists when we need them, and cases where specialists are on vacation, it would allow fill-ins to come in easier than it happens now.”
The minister said he is “very happy” with the results of the meeting. The next meeting amongst the three ministers will be held in St. Maarten on October 26 and 27.