Panama hospital can aid Cayman

The Punta Pacifica Hospital in Panama City, which had its official opening last week, could serve as an alternative to Miami’s hospitals for Cayman Islands residents seeking specialised medical treatment.

Equipment Demo

A Punta Pacifica nurse gives a demonstration of some of the hospitals equipment to, from left, HSA Chairman Al Ebanks, Health Minister Anthony Eden and Chief Officer of the Ministry of Health Diane Montoya while the hospitals President of the Board of Directors Elias Nevah looks on. Photo: Alan Markoff

During the recent Cayman Panama International Trade Mission, Punta Pacifica was toured by a Cayman Islands delegation that included Health Minister Anthony Eden; CINICO General Manager Carole Appleyard; Health Services Authority Chairman Al Ebanks; Chief Medical Officer Dr. Gerald Smith; Medical Director of the HSA Dr. Tamer Tadros; and Chief Officer of the Ministry of Health, Diane Montoya.

Dr. Smith said he was very impressed by the facility.

‘It’s hard to say we could have expected any more than what we found,’ he said.

Built under an affiliation agreement with Johns Hopkins Medicine International, Punta Pacifica boasts state-of-the-art digitised diagnostic medical equipment, which is all interfaced.

‘It’s the only hospital like it in the region,’ said Punta Pacifica consultant and acting CEO Carlos E. Barnes. ‘It has the best quality equipment, the same that you could find in the United States. And even better in some cases.’

The Johns Hopkins Hospital is considered one of the best hospitals in the United States.

With the affiliation agreement, Punta Pacifica can get second medical opinions and diagnostic advice from Johns Hopkins and call on that hospital’s resources to help in other ways such as helping to establish organisational development, offering laboratory consulting services and videoconferencing even in surgical areas.

The affiliation with Johns Hopkins also helps ensure Punta Pacifica patients receive top-notch care. The majority of the doctors at the hospital are trained in the United States or England, and some are board certified in the United States.

Regardless of where they are from or where they were trained, all doctors at Punta Pacifica have to meet Johns Hopkins’ accreditation standards.

‘The standards being imposed by Johns Hopkins are very strict,’ said Mr. Barnes. ‘They monitor the way we operate.’

Johns Hopkins insists doctors at Punta Pacifica undergo certain training programmes.

‘We had to go through six months of nothing but training,’ said Mr. Barnes.

In addition, Johns Hopkins requires it be sent random case files in order to monitor quality control of Punta Pacifica’s procedures and diagnoses.

Regional service

The seven-storey Punta Pacifica, which cost nearly $50 million to build, has 64 in-patient rooms, including 12 suites. All rooms are private.

There are operating rooms for more than a dozen different surgeries.

Mr. Barnes said the hospital was not built to only service the needs of Panama and its three million residents.

‘We have the capacity to give service to all of the region – South America, Central America and the Caribbean – and with our alliance with Hopkins, we feel confident we can do so.’

Punta Pacifica hopes to draw from many countries, partially because Panama has become a travel centre in the regions.

The hospital is very patient-friendly, and that goes for the families of patients as well.

Families are encouraged to stay with patients and small sofas suitable to sleep on are provided in each room.

The hospital also has eight intensive care unit rooms and semi-intensive care rooms along with an isolation room that is built to prevent the spread of contagious disease.

The two maternity rooms are painted with soothing designs and have adjoining waiting rooms for family members of delivering mothers.

Patient rooms and waiting rooms are equipped with flat-screen televisions, and waiting rooms are bright and comfortable.

But it was the state-of-the-art digital diagnostic equipment, including MRI, mammogram, ultrasound, x-rays, ultrasounds, homodynamic, endoscope, bone densitometry and other machines, as well as an extensive laboratory facility that really caught the eyes of Cayman’s doctors.

Mr. Barnes said that a doctor had just visited the hospital from the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota and was equally impressed.

‘He told us we had equipment that was not even available at Mayo,’ Mr. Barnes said. ‘That is one of the beauties of coming last.’

Nurse-to-patient ratios are also very high at Punta Pacifica with one nurse to every two patients in the hospital as a whole, and 1.5 nurses to every patient in the Intensive Care Unit.

Another attractive aspect of Punta Pacifica is the attached out-patient Medical Consultants Building with more than 350 specialist physicians.

Perhaps the most attractive part of Punta Pacifica Hospital from Cayman’s perspective is its lower costs for services in comparison with places like Miami.

Mr. Barnes said costing was an integral part of the long-term strategic planning for the hospital.

‘We’ve placed ourselves in the middle of pricing,’ he said. ‘We’re not the cheapest, but we’re not the most expensive either.’

In a report prepared after the Cayman delegation’s tour, the HSA’s Diane Montoya noted that Dr. Tadros and Dr. Smith both saw the future potential for referring patients from the Cayman Islands to Punta Pacifica.

‘They also mentioned that the Punta Pacifica Hospital affiliation with Johns Hopkins includes the accreditation of physicians, allowing them to feel confident about the high standards of care which one can expect as a result of this association,’ she wrote in the report.

Mrs. Montoya noted, however, that there are some challenges presented for Cayman residents that would use the hospital.

‘At present, there is a language barrier for English-speaking patients primarily due to the signs and printed materials being in Spanish,’ she wrote. ‘Another challenge is that the staff, with the exception of the physicians, spoke only Spanish.’

Another difficulty would arise from the lack of direct flights to Panama from Cayman. Panama’s Copa Airlines, however, does have direct flights to Havana and Miami. Cayman Airways is also considering direct flight service to Panama, possibly flying once-every two weeks to begin with.

Despite the challenges, Mrs. Montoya recommended the Cayman Islands ‘investigate the potential areas of medical services offered at Punta Pacifica Hospital which are currently offered in the United States at a much higher cost.’

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