CAY HILL–The realisation of a new hospital for St. Maarten came one step closer on Monday when officials turned the sod for the construction of new St. Maarten General Hospital.
Construction is expected to start in March 2019 and is slated to be fully completed in 2022. Wearing hard hats and holding shovels, officials turned the sod close to where the new hospital building will be erected over the next three years, which is the area at the West side of the present St. Maarten Medical Centre (SMMC) building close to G.A. Arnell Boulevard (opposite the Welgelegen Road roundabout).
SMMC General Director Kees Klarenbeek called the occasion “remarkable,” noting that the project was 10 years in the making. He said the actual construction of the new hospital will start in March 2019 when soil and site preparations have been concluded.
“We anticipate moving into the main building by December 2021, which will clear the way for demolition works to start on the present SMMC building and the additional wing, parking garage and helicopter pad to be constructed. It hurts to have to say goodbye to the present building, but Irma has taught us that we need a hospital that can withstand 200-plus miles per hour winds,” he said.
During his presentation Klarenbeek treated guests to a virtual tour of sections of the what the new hospital will look like, including the exterior and the interior corridors of the state-of-the-art building. He said the new hospital will have a gross surface of 15,387square metres and have 110 inpatient beds, an increase from the current 66 beds at SMMC.
The 110 beds will include eight ICU/CCU special care beds, 48 medical surgical beds, 38 mother-and-child beds and 16 day-care beds. Additionally, there will be three operating theatres, of which two will be general operating rooms and one will be a multifunctional intervention radiology cardiology (MIRC) room.
There will also be four outpatient clusters: a dialysis clinic with up to 30 positions; a radiology department including magnetic resonance imaging (MRI); two general practitioner clinics at the Emergency Room; and a helideck platform to allow helicopters to land and take off. The new facility will also have a pharmacy. The employee base for the new hospital will consist of approximately 400 full-time employees.
Deputy Prime Minister Wycliffe Smith, who spoke on behalf of Prime Minister Leona Romeo-Marlin who was off-island, said a new hospital has been on St. Maarten’s “needs list” for several years and is a good example of continuity of government, noting that despite changes in government the project continued and will continue.
A visibly proud Health Minister Emil Lee, who was praised by many speakers for his perseverance and determination to realise the project, spoke at length about the initiative. Lee said the ground-breaking was a milestone and credited teamwork from many persons who were involved in the project reaching this stage. Lee said he was proud that the process had been done transparently.
“The fact that Irma passed before we began construction allowed us to reengineer the project with higher specifications, allowing us to build what we believe will be one of the strongest buildings on the island, engineered not only for super hurricanes but also for earthquakes,” Lee said.
“The fact that Recovery Funds were made available via the World Bank has allowed for a grant to finance the strengthening of the new hospital as well as make provisions for improvements of the SMMC while the construction takes place. A new hospital also means quality care close to home, resulting in less referrals abroad so healthcare costs for the country will go down and that money previously sent abroad will remain within the economy of St. Maarten.”
SMMC Medical Director Dr. Felix Holiday emphasised that the trajectory towards the new hospital also includes the training and further upgrading of all staff to meet Joint Commission International (JCI) accreditation standards.
According to Dr. Holiday, “Essential upgrading of hospital staff also includes meeting international safety and quality standards, which is a trajectory we have already embarked upon with the end goal in several years’ time: to be a JCI accredited institution, which will be a first in the Dutch Caribbean.”
Regional manager of Inso, the Italy-based general contractor of the new hospital, and project manager of the St. Maarten General Hospital construction project Alessandro Cambri said more than two years had passed since the contract for the project was signed. He said he had seen a strong will to restore normalcy in the country after Hurricane Irma.
“The construction of this modern and efficient new hospital will be part and symbol of the rebirth of the island,” he said.
Cambri said Inso is part of the third largest Italian construction group and Condotte, its parent company is, unfortunately “going through financial turbulence due to the crisis that has affected the construction business in Italy during the last months. I hope that this turbulent period will pass quickly and without consequence for our involvement in this project.”
Dutch Representative Chris Johnson, Social and Health Insurances Interim Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Glen Carty and SMMC Supervisory Council Chairman Robert-Jan James also delivered remarks at the ceremony.
Governor Eugene Holiday, several ministers, Members of Parliament and other dignitaries attended the filled-to-capacity ceremony.