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PHILIPSBURG--Health Minister Emil Lee is seeking cooperation in the area of healthcare with French St. Martin.

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With Dutch St. Maarten working towards the construction of a new hospital and given the size of St. Maarten/St. Martin, Lee said it is important that the two sides determine what sort of structural cooperation can be had going forward. “Are we going to operate as two separate hospitals or will we synchronise our development plans as a small island.

“If we are looking at developing a service on the Dutch side, why have the French side build the exact same service and compete? It makes more sense developing complementary service,” Lee told reporters at the Council of Ministers press briefing on Wednesday. “If the Dutch side is developing one service, the French [side can – Ed.] take this into account and not invest in a competing service, but rather invest in a complementary service. If we can synchronise our healthcare development plans, it will have tremendous economic values for both sides,” he added.

He said, for example, if one side of the island brings in a specialist, through cooperation that specialist can serve patients on both sides of the island, rather than each side bringing in its own specialist to perform the same service. He said this will make the practice of the specialist “more financially viable.”

It is against this backdrop, that Government will look at developing the new hospital according to European standards.

Lee said a “positive” meeting was held with health representatives of French St. Martin including Dr. Louis Jeffry and Arnauld Benet on these issues last week. These meetings were scheduled to continue on Wednesday with an expanded team from Dutch St. Maarten which was expected to include St. Maarten Medical Center (SMMC) and the Department of Public Health as authorities work towards the development of a terms-of-reference for the new hospital. Lee said this way the new hospital will be framed in the structure of the cooperation between the two sides.

Lee said in a press release issued late Wednesday on the same subject that a formal cooperation agreement between the two sides has existed since 2014 and is known as the Observatory St. Maarten/St. Martin. As a result of this cooperation funds from both sides of the island have been supplemented with substantial funding from the European Union in the creation of an ongoing study of the health of the people.

Lee said the Health Ministry along with Jeffrey and Benet are currently moving forward on new agreements that will further enhance healthcare in St. Maarten/St. Martin. Key to this will be using the total populations of both sides to make a solid economic basis for a higher level of local healthcare.

Areas for immediate review include the sharing of specialists to expand the range of treatments available on the island, training of hospital staffs to synchronise levels of healthcare, the possibility to make services and space available to French residents in our planned expanded general hospital, and the development of complementary non-competing services.

The head of the Department of Public Health, Fenna Arnell is representing the Health Ministry along with active cooperation from SMMC Director Kees Klarenbeek and a team from Social and Health Insurances SZV to negotiate “favourable tariffs” for residents to access care through national health insurances, Lee said in the release.

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