Lee says UP assertion on new hospital misleading, untruthful

~ Says SMMC meeting all expenditures ~

PHILIPSBURG–Misleading, untruthful and incompetent were some of the words used by Minister of Public Health, Social Development and Labour VSA Emil Lee to debunk claims made by United People’s (UP) party about the new hospital that Lee has been pushing to see realised over the past months.

In a lengthy statement on Tuesday, UP Vice President Tatiana Arrindell made several claims about the new hospital including saying that SMMC currently loses money and constructing a larger facility will result in more losses. She also spoke about the absence of qualified specialists and suggested that Lee should have “taken over” UP’s plans for a new hospital. The full content of Arrindell’s letter can be read in The Daily Herald’s opinion pages today.

Lee told reporters at the live Council of Ministers press briefing on Wednesday that UP’s “political stunts” is unacceptable with something as important as the hospital. “It’s sad to see that UP and its surrogates are continuing to make the new hospital a political football. Years of neglect by previous ministers of health, ignoring that the tariffs had remained the same for over a dozen years despite constant information being submitted took the SMMC from running profitably to running at a loss.

“As Minister of Health, I will not sit back and watch any party slander the hard work that was put in by dedicated professionals whose only interest is to work and serve the people of St. Maarten.”

The Minister said when he first entered office in November 2015, SMMC had been reporting losses of millions of guilders annually. “This problem was known for several years by previous ministers. The problem was quite simple: tariffs had not been adjusted since 2004 and costs had gone up.”

“One of the first tasks in our quest to make sure that our healthcare system was sustainable was to perform an immediate rescue plan for SMMC so that it can keep its doors open. The hospital was being reimbursed for procedures that were less than its cost which created financial problems. We have reviewed and made adjustments where needed,” the Minister said.

SMMC, he added, is meeting all of its current operating expenditures as well as current tax expenditures. “There are still some outstanding tax issues from before the rescue, which will be addressed when the construction of the new hospital begins. Currently, the hospital is operating within budget.”

Regarding UP’s queries about government’s plan to offset the increase in expenses that the new hospital will create, Lee said by having the country’s medical services performed locally, the money that is being spent abroad will be spent in the country’s facility and benefit the local economy; not that of another country.

“SZV (Social Health Insurance) on its own initiative has begun a compliance drive, well documented to the public, raising income through compliance without raising taxes. We worked on improving compliance, and for 2016 collections are over 20 per cent. We are also working collectively with Aruba and Curaçao on our medical referrals to bulk our purchases together,” he noted.

He also responded to UP’s queries about whether there is sufficient business for specialists earning the living they envision. “We are almost finished with a cooperation agreement with the French side allowing us to synchronise development and to coordinate specialties. For example, if we develop a specialty on the Dutch side, the French side will not develop the same specialty and will refer their patients to the Dutch side, and vice versa.

“This way, we can increase the customer base to the full size of the island. This will also attract qualified specialists because they would have a larger population base to work for. This will create an environment that will attract regional tourism for advanced medical treatment,” the Minister responded.

Lee said UP had been looking at “a very expensive” hospital where the country would fund the capital expenditure to build the medical tourism wing. UP had planned on then outsourcing it to a third party, for them to exploit it for profit.

“In their plan, they were talking about six operating theatres, of which four of them would belong to the medical tourism entity and only two for our hospital. In our plan, we have four operating theatres all for St. Maarten and the region. Why can’t we have our country build a medical tourism section and bring in the specialists that we need, train the people that we have, and bring our people back home? The profit will stay within our country instead of being exported to an outside party,” Lee noted.

According to the Minister, constructing a new general hospital of excellence will diversify the economy. “If the quality of the services is proper then we would naturally attract business from the neighbouring islands. The economic impact of the general hospital will be huge for our economy.”

As it is election season, Lee said creating confusion or fear for political mileage now becomes the norm for some political parties. He said UP’s letter is “a prime example of this.”

Source: Daily Herald
Lee says UP assertion on new hospital misleading, untruthful