Grand opening of renovated A.M. Edwards Medical Center

Board of Directors of the Saba Health Care Foundation Dr. Joka Blaauboer and Acting Secretary-General of the Ministry of Health, Wellbeing and Sports Gea van Craaikamp (front) cut the ribbon during the grand opening of the renovated A.M. Edwards Medical Center.

The Bottom, SABA – After several years of preparation, a lengthy financing process, a slow-down in the execution of plans due to the 2017 hurricanes and a reconstruction that was carried out in phases, the renovated, state-of-the-art A.M. Edwards Medical Center was officially opened on Tuesday, January 15.

With eight beds in two wards and two private rooms, three doctor’s clinics, an X-ray room, a small lab, an emergency room, isolation room, a dentist room, nurses’ station and reception area, the renovated building and the new equipment are a huge improvement for medical care on Saba. The original building dates back to 1980 and the renovation was overdue.

A very proud Board of Directors of the Saba Health Care Foundation (SHCF) and Benevolent Foundation Saba (BFS) Dr. Joka Blaauboer and Acting Secretary-General of the Ministry of Health, Wellbeing and Sports VWS Gea van Craaikamp cut the ribbon. They did so in the presence of Health Insurance Office ZVK Head Angel Bermudez, SHCF/BSF Chairman of the Supervisory Board Sydney Sorton, Director International Affairs of the Ministry of VWS Herbert Barnaar, Island Governor Jonathan Johnson, Commissioners Bruce Zagers and Rolando Wilson, several Island Council members and a large number of guests.   

A proud Dr. Joka Blaauboer at the opening ceremony.

Several phases

The US $1.2 million overall renovation, financed by the Ministry of VWS and the ZVK, started in March 2018, and was preceded by several phases in which other upgrades were done. In 2012, a new electrical panel board was installed and the main incoming cable was renewed. In 2013 a hurricane-proof ambulance bay was built, a covered storage for the generator, oxygen and medical waste was constructed, as well as a medical store room. In 2014, the X-ray room was relocated, the ICT room was created and the former library was reconstructed to house the administration. This created more space for the clinic and its renovation.

In 2015, the facilities office, other store rooms and the morgue were renovated. In 2016, the former cultural building was renovated and turned into the care support center which houses physical therapist and the home health care staff. A 2017 patient satisfaction survey showed high ratings for the staff, the treatment and the facility, but patients did mention that the lack of privacy was a point of attention.   

Dr. Blaauboer stated in her speech that securing the financing for the renovation of the main building took quite a while, and that by the time funding came through mid-2017, hurricanes Irma and Maria passed which caused a setback. In March 2018, the renovation of the medical center clinic, admissions and the emergency room started. Service to the people was not interrupted and the SHCF’s administration building served as a temporary clinic.

Noise and dust

The renovation placed a huge strain on the staff and was an inconvenience for the clients and patients, said Dr. Blaauboer. Everyone had to bear with the constant noise and dust. “But in the end, we did it for a good cause. We wanted to upgrade our organization and our working environment, and further improve our services,” she said. Dr. Blaauboer thanked the entire staff, the Ministry of VWS, ZVK, the building committee, external facility manager Chris Papasavva who initiated the project and was a “continuous driving force,” the “indispensable” ICT manager Richard Hassell, the local construction company Hes for delivering “superb quality,” as well as contractor Winkels from the Netherlands which did the electrical-mechanical part, plumbing and airconditioning. 

“Today we have achieved a major milestone. With our improved facilities, we are now leading in the region. We have a state-of-the-art building, fitted to Saba’s needs, enabling us to give everyone the care that they deserve in a safe, hygienic, accessible, friendly and comfortable environment with the necessary privacy for our clients,” said Dr. Blaauboer. 

Better safety, accessibility

The investments in the medical center mainly served to secure and improve the safety, accessibility, privacy and user friendliness of patients, visitors and staff. A number of quality adaptations were made, including new electric installations, a nurse-call system, high-quality floors, new toilets and showers, new doors and windows, airconditioned rooms, improved privacy for patients, a third doctor’s clinic for visiting medical specialists, an overflow for first aid and isolation room.  

“We now meet the standards of any modern hospital,” said SHCF/BFS Chairman of the Supervisory Board Sorton. He said that after the SHCF was created in 2010, it “didn’t take long to realize that a serious renovation was needed.”

Acting Secretary-General of the Ministry of VWS Van Craaikamp mentioned some of the investments that have been made in health care since Saba became a public entity. She called Saba a “good and trusted partner.” She was impressed by the renovation which she called a “great, great success” and an “important step to improve quality care.” 

Island Governor Johnson said in his short address that the renovation had been quite a journey and that the opening was the culmination of several years of hard work. Referring to the Bible, Jonathan Johnson said that the medical center was formed by many body parts, yet it was one body.

Dignitaries and guests at the grand opening. In front, from left: Commissioner Rolando Wilson, historian and former Commissioner Will Johnson, Island Governor Jonathan Johnson and Commissioner Bruce Zagers.

Historical context

Local historian Will Johnson in his speech addressed Saba’s medical history and provided interesting details on the development of medical care on the island which has come a long way. Some 100 years ago medical care was provided in a small house used as a clinic in The Bottom and a room in the back of the post office and police station in Windwardside. “No privacy whatsoever,” he said.

In 1925, a building was purchased to use as a clinic. It was named the Princess Juliana Hospital. In 1937, the former public school in Windwardside was converted into a hospital and in 1943 it was given the name Princess Marguerite Hospital. However, this building burned down in 1959 and a compromise was found to build the Princess Irene Hospital at St. John’s which was opened in 1960 with 11 beds. This hospital was the source of many complaints: the wind was a constant factor and the old aluminum shutters were constantly rattling. “People could not get a good night’s rest,” said Johnson.

In 1977, former administrator Eugenius Johnson suggested constructing a new medical center at the location of the old government garage. Will Johnson, Commissioner at the time, took the plan to the Dutch Government for financing, which amounted to one million guilders. The hospital in St. John’s would be turned into a secondary school.

1980 opening

“In November 1980, when Queen Beatrix was making her first visit to Saba as queen, we asked that she open the new medical center. At the last moment we were informed that the building needed a name. I proposed that we name it after Mrs. Maude Othella Edwards-Jackson who together with her nephew Elmer Linzey had introduced the Saba Electric Company. She lost her life in a plane crash off St. Croix on her way to Saba and I thought it fitting to name the building after her,” said historian Johnson. 

Two members of the public, Claire Johnson and Janet Wilson-Hassell made use of the opportunity to congratulate SHCF and to thank everyone involved. After the cutting of the ribbon, Head Nurse Lisette Riley lead the delegation into the renovated building for a tour, followed by the public. Pastor Vernon Liburd blessed the building and the rooms. The Occassionals provided music before and after the official opening act.

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