CAY HILL–Health Minister Emil Lee says there has been a reduction in medical referrals abroad as a result of the increasing of new specialties at St. Maarten Medical Center (SMMC).
He said on Wednesday that the hospital services are consistently expanding and SMMC now offers urology and neurology services. The urology services have been available for several months now, but the clinic was officially opened on May 7. For St. Maarten patients, the referrals abroad for this specialty have dropped more than 90 per cent, Lee said.
“The Health tripartite consisting of the SMMC, SZV [Social and Health Insurances – Ed.] and the Ministry of VSA [Health, Labour and Social Affairs] has a very focused mission. This mission is to deliver quality and affordable health care, close to home. I can see day by day that we are getting closer to achieving this mission,” Lee said.
“The official opening of the urology clinic is another milestone in that process. Management, specialists, staff and the board of SMMC are to be commended for their commitment and dedication to improving the range of services, quality and customer service.”
Patients in need of urology care previously had to be referred abroad to French St. Martin or other destinations. The access to this and other new specialties has not only reduced the number of referrals abroad, but is also projected to improve residents’ quality of life. The availability of local specialist care improves access to early diagnoses and treatment of illnesses, reducing the risk of becoming emergency care or long-term disabilities.
“I was informed that yesterday alone the neurology clinic saw 20 patients. Can you imagine that for this specialty alone, each of these patients would have had to be referred abroad for a consultation or treatment? With the services being available locally the money spent on airfare, hotels and per diems can be saved and spent on actual health care expenses.
“The expansion of medical specialties at SMMC is significantly improving the access to quality care and the quality of life of patients. Without these services, not only the cost of medical referrals abroad would continue to rise, but patients would continue to experience the hassle of travel abroad, time from work and family, and in some cases long stays in foreign countries for treatment and rehabilitation,” Lee said during the Council of Ministers press briefing of Wednesday.
The recent expansion of medical care services has been made possible in part by advance funding from the Caribbean Netherlands islands. This agreement was put in place for SMMC to be able to increase the range and quality of medical services. SMMC’s increased rates for these services puts SMMC in a financial position to repay the loan, which is almost completed.
The benefit of the agreement is not only for St. Maarten, but also for the Caribbean Netherlands islands. With the reduced need for medical referrals abroad for these new specialties, patients no longer have to go through a “hassle” to get the medical care they need.
“From all perspectives, accessing quality care is being improved, logistics, financial and family, etc. The partnership proves to be a win-win, improving quality of care within the islands with the financial benefit of keeping the monies flowing within our own economies.”
The barrier to access urology and neurology care is now removed and this counts for the other new medical specialties available at SMMC as well. Long-term medical cost is projected to be reduced due to early detection and treatment now available locally.
The investments in the local health care services, including the equipment, will make significant changes in the financial picture of the health care system and patients’ quality of life, Lee said.