Care heroes Bonaire

Since the outbreak of the coronavirus, there has been regular talk in terms of war. And the health care workers invariably are the “heroes” on the “front line” of the “battlefield”. Worldwide we are becoming more aware of the importance of advanced and well-organized care. But what about our own “care heroes” on Bonaire? We speak with Manager Operations Burney el Hage and Policy Advisor Nanine Ponson about the staffing situation within Fundashon Mariadal.

Anchored in society
In total about 650 people work at Fundashon Mariadal. About 500 of these are directly employed in healthcare. The other 150 employees have supporting functions such as administration, HRM and management, as well as cleaning and security. This makes Fundashon Mariadal one of the largest employers on the island. Compared to other healthcare institutions, Mariadal fulfills a broad role. In addition to the hospital and outpatient clinic, the organization includes its own laboratory, dialysis center, pharmacy and nursing home, and offers home care for the elderly. Due to this broad role, Fundashon Mariadal is strongly anchored in society and the hospital feels very accessible. However, the open-door policy is no longer self-evident due to the corona crisis.

Crisis mode
The hospital is always prepared for crises and disaster situations,’ Ponson explains, ‘but a protracted pandemic like this was not expected by anyone.’ The healthcare institution’s experience of crisis situations is largely based on natural disasters, such as the passing of a hurricane. After more than six months in ‘crisis mode’, it is a challenge to keep everyone on their toes. The crisis situation seems to be the new normal and that requires a great deal of adaptability from the employees of the care institution. ‘At the beginning of the outbreak there was also the fear among staff of becoming infected themselves,’ El Hage explains. Care workers are used to care for and comfort others, but there was also unrest about their own health and the health of family members to reckon with.

Keeping the courage up
Ponson is part of the crisis policy team that continuously responds to the changing situation. The first measures of the new team had to do with guaranteeing the deployment of the personnel. This was done, among other things, by arranging personal protective equipment and offering training on how to use it. Motivating the healthcare staff also played a major role. With the advice of a psychiatrist, measures were taken to control the unrest and to initiate the necessary behavioral change.

For example, sessions were planned in which staff members could share their personal concerns and challenges. Recognition was important to deal with the uncertain situation. Extra attention was also paid to the appreciation of the staff. This varied from meal delivery to colleagues who frequently worked overtime, to offering a qualitative break to colleagues who really needed a time-out. They were then allowed to stay at a local resort with their family members for a few days.‘This is not a luxury indulgence,’ emphasizes El Hage. ‘It can be of vital importance for health care workers to be alert at all times. Fatigue or distraction can have enormous consequences when working with patients.’ To keep up the courage, a video clip was launched in May in which the employees of Fundashon Mariadal were put in the spotlight.

A passion for learning
El Hage and Ponson regard Fundashon Mariadal as a “learning organization”. To stimulate mobility within the organization and to further develop health care education on Bonaire, the Fundashon Mariadal founded the FM Academy. But being a learning organization also means the realization that everything can always be further improved. El Hage and Ponson are modest when it comes to the academy and indicate that they want to achieve much more in the area of education in the coming years. An important step was recently taken when it became known that the diploma for nurses on Bonaire will also be BIG registered. This offers local nurses opportunities to gain experience in the European Netherlands and makes it more attractive for local students to start this training.

Dutch standards
About sixty percent of the healthcare professionals at Fundashon Mariadal live permanently on Bonaire. The other 40 percent consists of temporary appointments, mainly from the European Netherlands. ‘That is a choice we have made,’ El Hage explains. ‘By choosing in 2010 to comply with Dutch healthcare standards, we inherently opt to work with specialists from the European Netherlands.’ Professionals from Curaçao and Aruba also choose to work at the Bonairian health care institution. Ponson is Aruban herself and indicates that the organizational culture played a major role for her in choosing Fundashon Mariadal. ‘There is little hierarchy and bureaucracy here and there is a lot of room for mobility within the organization.’

The integration department
Managing 650 employees who are diverse in terms of origin, age and position is a major challenge for Fundashon Mariadal. To ensure that temporary employees also feel included in the team, regular attention is paid to Bonaire’s work culture. Director Giovanni Frans meets the new specialists every month and teaches them local manners in his own humorous way.

This seems to typify the organizational culture of the health care organization. Everyone is expected to think outside the job description or organization chart to tackle projects that are relevant at that moment. There is not a department or a protocol for everything, so it is important that people have an open-minded and dynamic attitude. And what ultimately connects everyone working in Mariadal is the devotion to take the best care of the patient.