‘Govt. not to be blamed for closing of Medical School’

The original article can be found in: The Daily Herald

ST. EUSTATIUS–Commissioner Reginald Zaandam said apartment owners and others who invested financially to cater to students and staff at University of St. Eustatius School of Medicine put the blame squarely on the shoulders of the governments of Statia and The Netherlands for the school not obtaining the required accreditation. “This perception is far from the truth,” Commissioner Zaandam said.

In a letter dated September 4, 2006, former Minister of Health of the Netherlands Antilles Omayra Leeflang informed Associate Dean at Statia Medical School, Peter Esteban, that none of the medical schools in the Netherlands Antilles were accredited by government.

“The procedure to obtain accreditation was outlined in the letter and the minister underscored the importance for the schools to start that process towards accreditation of the school as soon as possible,” Zaandam stated.

A month later, the health ministers of The Netherlands and the Netherlands Antilles requested Dutch Flemish Accreditation Organisation NVAO to assess the quality of medical schools in the Netherlands Antilles, based on the “Initial Accreditation Framework Higher Education,” which is the benchmark in assessing higher learning in the Dutch Kingdom.

NVAO held an information session in Curaçao in 2007, during which the assessment was explained in detail. The medical schools were also requested to submit information files including a self-evaluation report.

As a result of this informative session, Brenda S. Kirby submitted an application to NVAO on behalf of Statia Medical School in April 2008, for the assessment of the basic quality of the school’s Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree course, Commissioner Zaandam explained.

“It is also important to mention that Saba’s Medical School was also among the five medical schools that submitted applications for the assessment of their MD courses,” he added.

Shortly thereafter, a committee consisting of three professors was appointed by The Netherlands, the Netherlands Antilles, Foundation for Advancement of International Medical Education and Research (FAIMER) and Educational Committee for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG). The last two organisations are in charge of the listing of medical graduates in the United States.

The assessment of the programme of the MD degree course at Statia’s Medical School took place in November 2008. “Of the 16 standards that were assessed 10 were assessed as unsatisfactory. As a result of that NVAO gave a negative assessment of the course,” Zaandam said.

“The Saba Medical School assessment of their MD degree course was assessed satisfactory and as a result of that they are now accredited.”

Since the dismantling of the Netherlands Antilles was imminent and there were no serious attempts of the medical school to submit a new application to seek another assessment, the governments of Holland and the Netherlands Antilles informed the school in writing that it should reorganise and work on the failed standards and submit a new application for assessment by NVAO. Neglecting to do so and or failing to obtain the accreditation would result in the school losing its place on the listing of FAIMER/ECFMG.

In 2011, the school obtained a two-year extension until September 2013, to obtain the required accreditation, otherwise graduates would no longer be qualified to register and practice medicine in the Kingdom. FAIMER/ECFMG also informed the school that their graduates would not be able to make the listing if the school was not accredited by then, Zaandam stated.

In a letter dated May 17, 2011, the Dutch Government informed the medical school that although the school would not be recognised during the extension period, “The Minister of Health, Welfare and Sport of The Netherlands hereby certifies that graduates of the University of St. Eustatius School of Medicine, upon successful completion of their course of studies and presentation of their diploma conferring the Degree of Doctor of Medicine, are eligible to submit a request for recognition of this degree in The Netherlands.”

Zaandam said that the government understood that the medical school withdrew the first application and had submitted a new application. “The reason why the medical school found that necessary is not clear,” he said.

In July, the Commissioner of Health had several meetings with the medical school’s officials to seek ways and means to help convince FAIMER/ECFMG to grant the school yet another extension of two years.

FAIMER/ECFMG received a letter in which it was stated under which stipulations and conditions the medical school would conduct its operations if FAIMER/ECFMG would grant them another extension towards securing the accreditation at the end of a set period. It was also underscored that during these two years Holland would take the same position as during the first extension period, Zaandam explained.

However, Vice President of Operations and Strategic Development Joseph L. Johnson asked government not to send the letter “because he was of the opinion that the content would miss the objective of what Statia Medical School wanted,” Zaandam said.

“Government requested an explanation, but Mr. Johnson at that time chose to emphasize not to send the letter as yet because he had additional information he liked to be added to the content; that was nearly two weeks ago. On behalf of government I called his cell phone many times, without any result. So, government is wondering if there is more in mortar besides the pestle,” the commissioner concluded.

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