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St. Maarten Medical Center staff protests appointment of new director

THURSDAY, 01 AUGUST 2013

~ Union says workers will not back down ~

CAY HILL–St. Maarten Medical Center (SMMC) workers strongly protested the appointment of The Netherlands-based Gersji Rodrigues Pereira as the hospital’s new General Director on Wednesday, by holding an hour-long meeting and mini-protest action at the medical facility.

SMMC Supervisory Council Chairperson Izzy Gerstenbluth and Vice-Chairperson Robert-Jan James have not responded to questions posed by The Daily Herald on this matter since Monday.

While the action was supported by more than 100 workers from all departments, skeleton staff remained at their posts to ensure that operations continued.

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A large number of placard-bearing workers walked through the hospital corridors chanting “No Pereira; no Pereira.” They knocked on several doors as they made three rounds on the hospital building’s upper floor which holds the administrative offices, but no one opened.

The workers are backed by their union and Health Minister Cornelius de Weever. The medical specialists and the management team also are concerned about Pereira’s appointment. He received negative publicity in the Dutch press over his handling of life-threatening infections uncovered in operating theatres in a hospital he oversaw in The Netherlands.

Pereira is set to assume duties at SMMC on a one-year contract today, Thursday, but Windward Islands Health Care Union Association (WIHCUA) has maintained that this is not a move it will endorse or accept, and plans to step up its action if this occurs.

“SMMC is democracy – you do not have the word,” “Supervisory board – it is not what you want. It is what SMMC needs,” “The three pillars: safety, health, satisfaction: practise what you preach,” read some of the placards.

Windward Islands Civil Servants Union/Private Sector Union (WICSU/PSU) President Dearie Leonard and former president William Reed also appeared in a show of solidarity with the workers.

The action began after 10:00am when the union met with its members in the hospital’s cafeteria. The visibly incensed workers were given a chance to express their opinions on the current situation and it was clear that they were against Pereira’s appointment. The workers believed that with SMMC coming out of a controversial situation with its former director Dr. George Scot, someone with a “clean” background should be appointed to take over the helm of the facility.

At least two medical specialists and members of the SMMC management team were seen in the vicinity of the meeting.

De Weever also showed up at the meeting and spoke to the workers. He told this newspaper on Tuesday that he would be supporting the union and had provided it with a copy of his letter to SMMC’s Supervisory Board in which he expressed reservations about the director. De Weever also has forwarded Periera’s nomination/appointment to the Corporate Governance Council for its input on this matter.

“We are at a very critical stage at SMMC and we should all be working together to ensure that the next few months and the years are smooth while we finalise the expansion,” De Weever had said.

He suggested in his discourse with workers Wednesday that the local market be checked for a candidate. He told workers that if they walked, he also would walk, indicating that he backed them all the way.

WIHCUA representatives said the Supervisory Council appeared to be “ramming” its decision to appoint Pereira “down their throats,” given that the workers, union, minister, medical specialists and management team all have reservations about the appointment.

WIHCUA said that while Pereira might be a qualified candidate, his track record did not make him a good candidate for the job at SMMC. Some workers believe the Supervisory Council should step down if it disregards and ignores everyone’s sentiments.

The union informed the Supervisory Council in a letter on Wednesday that if the decision was not annulled the “consequences of any further actions taken by the staff” would be on its shoulders. That letter was copied to Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams.

An article published in Algemeen Dagblad in 2008 said Pereira had been aware of “life-threatening infections” in operating rooms at IJsselmeer hospital in The Netherlands that he had been running at the time, but he had done nothing about it. The Dutch article said the Health Care Inspectorate had closed seven operating rooms at the institution due to “unacceptable risks of infection.”

The article also said the IJsselmeer hospital had been plagued by financial problems for years as the result of a difficult merger between clinics in Lelystad and Emmeloord. It had issues among medical specialists, faced a crisis and patients had lost confidence in the institution. The article said municipalities, county and unions had no confidence in Pereira, who is said to have more than 20 years’ experience in health care.

The union had written two letters to the Supervisory Council on the matter and had expressed its position in a meeting with the Council on Tuesday.

Yvonne van Ameijden was appointed Interim Financial Director and Chairperson of the Board, which is considered the same position as General Director, on April 1. Her appointment came three months after Dr. George Scot’s departure at the end of last year.

Bron: The Daily Herald, St. Maarten

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