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New clinic opens - but with no BHeC approval on standard care benefits

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Open Day: The opening of Hamilton Medical Centre with Charles Gosling, the Mayor of Hamiltion (left) and JJ Soares, the centre’s medical director (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
New medical office: JJ Soares, the medical director at the new Hamilton Medical Centre (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
The MRI machine at the HMC-Burnaby Urgent Care & Medical Imaging clinic (Photograph supplied)
The CT scanning technology at the HMC-Burnaby Urgent Care & Medical Imaging clinic (Photograph supplied)

A doctor opened his relocated medical centre yesterday – the culmination of a project that spanned more than five years and was faced by “many challenges”.

JJ Soares said the HMC-Burnaby Urgent Care & Medical Imaging clinic will offer a range of services.

But he highlighted that the Bermuda Health Council had yet to approve the centre for standard health benefit status, which he said meant that HIP and FutureCare patients will not be able to use its diagnostic imaging services without charge.

Dr Soares said: “It has been a dream of mine for many years to open a medical facility where Bermudians can pop in before or after work or over lunch and get the medical care they need, be it medical advice, blood work or an MRI, all under one roof.

“We will continue to offer family medicine and urgent care services, blood testing and ultrasound. “Additionally, in this new location, we will also provide pharmacy services, mammography, X-ray, CT scan, MRI, bone density testing as well as cardiological testing.”

He added that the 15,000 sq ft space on Burnaby Street was the only place on the island, other than the King Edward VII Memorial Hospital, to offer such a range of services in one location.

Dr Soares told the public: “We will be able to reduce wait times to have your scans done.

“It is my goal to provide all scans – from X-ray to MRI – on a same or next day basis.

“We will thereby be able to assist the hospital with any backlog.”

A Bermuda Hospitals Board spokeswoman said that appointment waiting times for most diagnostic imaging in “non-urgent situations” was up to two days.

But she added that it could take “significantly longer” for CT or MRI scans.

The spokeswoman said: “The next availability for an outpatient CT scan is January 26 and February 10 for an MRI.

“Availability does fluctuate and wait times can be longer.

“If wait times extend to six weeks, the Diagnostic Imaging Department work extended hours to alleviate the back log.

“Emergency and urgent cases are always accommodated right away.”

Dr Soares said that work to get his clinic up and running had continued despite a string of setbacks.

He explained: “There was Covid-19, which shut the project down for some weeks, a 14-month delay with building excavation and, most significantly, the death of my architect, project manager and friend Simon Hodgson, midway through the construction.

“Today I am naming the MRI and CT suite in his honour. It will be called the ’Simon M Hodgson Imaging Suite’.”

The building was named in honour of John A Soares, the doctor’s late father, who was a taxi driver.

Its mammography suite was named after Dr Soares’ mother, Alberta May Soares.

Dr Soares said his discussions with the BHeC about the new clinic started in 2015 and that negotiations since March 2019 had dealt with SHB.

He added: “It is most concerning therefore that the health council has twice denied us SHB status which would have allowed us to provide all diagnostic imaging – including MRI, CT, X-ray, mammography and ultrasound services – to HIP and FutureCare patients without charge to them.

“We have appealed their decisions to deny us SHB status numerous times and we have been turned down every time, which is particularly unfortunate since there are other providers, offering the same services, who continue to be granted SHB year after year.”

Dr Soares said that HIP and FutureCare would supply “limited cover” for general practitioners’ visits and blood work.

But he added that the lack of SHB status meant patients on those programmes would need to "pay out of pocket for any imaging work at the centre until the old decision is overturned in court or the fresh application, submitted by HMC last July, is granted”.

Dr Soares said that leave had been given by the Supreme Court for a judicial review of the decision.

Ricky Brathwaite, the health council’s chief executive officer, said it would be unfair to SHB applicants to “bias” the application process by “reviewing the merits of an application through the media”.

He added: “While we appreciate the desire for new businesses to open up, provide additional options for patient services and potentially thrive during these economic times, there is a strict process that must be undertaken to ensure that the budgets set forth for the standard premium rate are responsibly maintained and that the provision of legislated essential services are properly regulated and quality of care throughout the broader system sustained.”

Dr Brathwaite declined to comment further because the application was “still being reviewed”.

A Government spokeswoman said that the Health Insurance Department’s two products – HIP and FutureCare – covered benefits for X-rays, MRI and CT scans “for providers that are approved by the Bermuda Health Council as diagnostic imaging providers and registered at HID”.

She added: “The Hamilton Medical Centre Ltd is currently not an approved diagnostic imaging provider and therefore not registered at HID as a provider of these services to HID’s policyholders.”

Dr Soares said that the clinic’s Hitachi open MRI device, which weighs 34,000lbs, was “the most powerful open MRI available in the world”.

He said: “It is likely to be popular with patients who may be claustrophobic or obese as well as children or anyone who needs additional support since, thanks to its open architecture, a caregiver can be in direct physical contact with the patient at all times during the exam.”

The doctor was joined by Charles Gosling, the Mayor of Hamilton, to cut the ribbon at the centre yesterday].

Mr Gosling highlighted Dr Soares’ “drive and commitment” to getting the clinic open.

It replaced the Hamilton Medical Centre on Victoria Street.

The mayor added that it was “uplifting to see one of Hamilton’s businesses actually expanding and growing”.

The HMC-Burnaby Urgent Care & Medical Imaging centre will be open from 8am to 7pm on weekdays, with laboratory appointments from 6.45am, and from 9am to 5pm on Saturdays.

The public can attend an open house event – with staggered visiting times in line with Covid-19 precautions – from 10am to 5pm on Saturday.

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Published January 19, 2021 at 9:48 am (Updated January 19, 2021 at 9:48 am)

New clinic opens - but with no BHeC approval on standard care benefits

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