Lee assures new hospital will be built despite delay

PHILIPSBURG–Underscoring the need for a new hospital for the people of St. Maarten, Health Minister Emil Lee says a new hospital will eventually be constructed for the people of St. Maarten despite the current delay due to the recent court verdict.

Lee told reporters at the live weekly Council of Ministers press briefing on Wednesday that the recent court case VAMED filed against Social Health Insurances SZV had delayed the development of the new hospital.

“This does not mean that a new hospital will not be built. It will. St. Maarten needs a new hospital,” Lee said.

SZV has been complying with the verdict, but it has appealed the court ruling. Lee said parties are very careful about what they say, given the heavy penalties involved.

“Within the court judgement, SZV is prohibited from directly or indirectly signing an agreement with INSO, or an entity within INSO, with the aim to build the hospital and it prohibits SZV from complying with the already-signed agreement or providing cooperation with a penalty of a fine of US $1 million per offence, whereby the total fines that can be given is a maximum of $25 million.

“Therefore, everyone is very cautious and careful about what they say,” Lee said. “However, this does not mean that work is not progressing in terms of the legal case and discussions about how we will improve the quality of health care … are still ongoing.”  

He also spoke about VAMED’s claim that INSO’s price to construct the new facility was too low.

“I want the public to know that SZV is working diligently on the appeal so that we can see the new hospital become a reality and all stakeholders, including Government, support the appeal. …

“During the court case, VAMED presented two arguments to justify their claim. [They said – Ed.] that the price of INSO was too low. They used a benchmark report from an American company that was commissioned by VAMED to justify the average construction cost per square metre and there was a reference to construction cost per metre square as outlined by St. Maarten Medical Center (SMMC) for the expansion plans in 2009.

“VAMED argued that the construction price per metre square in 2009 is higher than the one from INSO.”

Lee said it was very difficult to use the construction price for the expansion in 2009 to compare to INSO’s competitive proposal. The new hospital and the 2009 expansion plans both proposed to construct four operating theatres, he noted. When constructing hospitals there are a number of hot floors and cold floors. An operating room is considered a hot floor, as it is a room that requires intricate technical construction details and material. Cold floors are very basic construction with walls and tiles, etc.

The construction price in the 2009 expansion was based on constructing all hot floors, whereas plans for the new hospital include hot floors plus cold floors. In essence, the high cost of building an operating theatre is the most expensive price per square metre for the hospital. Therefore, when you divide that cost over the square metres, of course the average square-metre price is a higher price, he explained.

“For example, if you’re building a house and you want a gourmet kitchen, if you only took the price per m2 for your gourmet kitchen, the price for construction would be higher than if you would calculate the price of your living room which would be merely walls and tiles.”

In addition, the 2009 expansion included the construction of two floors, but only the first floor was in the expansion project. “Therefore, the foundation and structure had to be stronger to support a two-floor structure. Therefore, that beefed up excavation and foundation is divided over a smaller square footage,” Lee said.

He said he was “very comfortable” that the INSO price was not too high.

“From the beginning of the process Royal HaskoningDHV and Independent Consulting Engineers (ICE) with local experience, who has extensive experience in building hospitals, was hired as an engineering consultant throughout the whole process. A budget was formulated to illustrate how much should the new hospital cost. These numbers were carefully calculated to provide a benchmark figure for the evaluation of the bids received,” he said.

“When you try to do everything right in an open and transparent bidding process, it is kind of surprising to me that this is where we end up; but it is what it is. In the end all parties, SMMC, Government and SZV, all have an incentive for the hospital to be built to reduce health care costs, improve quality of service, provide care locally and to provide a professional working environment for the staff of SMMC with modern equipment.

“While we all want and need a new hospital, the possibility of making this reality is currently being held hostage for financial personal interests.”

Lee called on the media to ask VAMED what its intentions are in terms of moving forward. “Is it there intention to pursue the long legal battle at the expense of improved health care for the people of the country?” he asked.

Source: The Daily Herald https://www.thedailyherald.sx/islands/62853-lee-assures-new-hospital-will-be-built-despite-delay