Monday , December 5 2022

Court says “no” to fines in SMMC-inspectorate case

St. Maarten Medical Center (SMMC) has objected successfully to the conditions attached to the demands placed on it by the Inspectorate of Public Health. The Court of First Instance ruled Friday that the conditions the Inspectorate had placed on SMMC on October 12 had not been imposed with the proper care and were insufficiently motivated.

The Inspectorate had imposed 13 demands on SMMC geared towards improving medical care at the facility. Some of the demands were to be met by October 26, and others before December 8. SMMC sent a letter on October 25, a day before the first deadline, stating it had already complied with some demands. SMMC also claimed that certain demands were without legal basis and that the demands were “overkill.” However, the Inspectorate contended that SMMC had not complied and still had to do so. Failure of SMMC to comply with the measures by the set deadline could result in the imposition of fines of up to US $500 per day per infringement, up to a maximum of $50,000 per infringement. The Inspectorate may also close certain units at SMMC.

SMMC’s lawyer Maarten Le Poole had argued that the imposition of fines would “disproportionately” damage the hospital. The fines would put the hospital in financial problems and would further damage the hospital’s reputation, jeopardising SMMC’s plans to extend the facility, it was stated. Staff and patients would be turning their backs to the hospital, the lawyer said. He claimed that the “overkill” in measures imposed on it by the Inspectorate was threatening the hospital’s existence, “thus reaching the opposite of what the Inspectorate is claiming to pursue.” In the meantime, SMMC had started working on an improvement action plan, which would be finalised in the near future, it was said.

Judge René van Veen said the Inspectorate’s decision to attach fines to its demands was unreasonable. “The Inspection should have set a reasonable timeframe for a reaction on its draft report” of the hospital audit, the Judge stated. He said the Inspectorate should have allowed SMMC more time to respond and comment on the Inspectorate’s findings during the audit. In this respect, the Judge also found it of importance that the Inspectorate had not mentioned any “highrisk” findings in the audit report.

In this light, the Judge came to the conclusion that SMMC interest’s outweighed those of the Inspectorate where the imposition of fines was concerned. The Judge said the question whether there actually was a legal basis for the issuance of fines by the Inspectorate would have to be answered in the court case on the merits.

Source: “The Daily Herald” 2012-11-17

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