Project manager Marc Harks worked on Curaçao Medical Center for years

Just in time for the Corona crisis: Project manager Marc Harks worked on Curaçao Medical Center for years

DE UITDAGING | In March 2015, Marc Harks' family packed their bags and left the Netherlands with a one-way ticket to Curaçao. Marc started on the island as Head of Work Preparation on the Curaçao Medical Center project, but eventually became Project Manager. “These were turbulent years. But I am proud.”

The Curaçao Medical Center replaces the 160-year-old building of the St. Elisabeth Hospital, which was very outdated and hindered good health care on the island. Marc became involved in the new hospital in September 2014 and worked from the Ballast Nedam head office in Nieuwegein on the preparations and the start of the implementation. Six months later, he crossed the ocean. “As a family, we especially enjoyed going on such an adventure abroad,” he says. “Would we make it in a different environment? We will take this experience with us for the rest of our lives.”

 

The rhythm of the island was good. So good, in fact, that Marc is now the last Dutch Ballast Nedammer to be found on Curaçao. After the successful completion at the end of 2019, he stayed on the island to provide aftercare of the building and to supervise the very last finishes. The hospital has been fully operational since its completion, with three hundred beds, seven operating rooms and the most modern equipment. All based on Dutch and European standards.

We will take this experience with us for the rest of our lives.
Marc Harks Project Manager Ballast Nedam
Local colleagues

The aim of the project was to perform approximately eighty percent of the man-hours spent with local workers. That was a challenge, because the hospital is by far the largest project ever built in Curaçao. “For example, at the peak of the planning, forty to fifty concrete weavers were needed”, Marc reflects. “You won't find so many experienced people in that area on an island. That is why we sometimes had to look beyond the borders of Curaçao. Many islanders were absolutely motivated to work. One day someone reported to the employment agency as a carpenter, after which it turned out that we could also use him as a plumber.” Marc laughs: “And after a while I ran into him while he was planting a roof garden. Those are the advantages of the people here: they live in a small community and are soon more developed because they have to solve a lot of things themselves.”

Hundreds of people worked on the hospital. Some contributed for a few weeks, others clocked in for years. “For example, in 2014 someone started working with us who has developed tremendously. He started pouring prefab elements, started assembling and eventually continued in the finishing phase, where he put up walls, made ceilings and laid tile floors. Those are people who stand out. They are motivated, proud and eager to learn. In the end we had a fixed, all-round group of people who were involved in the whole process.”

 

A real challenge

Marc looks back with a twofold feeling. “I am extremely proud of what we have achieved here, but these were turbulent years and difficult circumstances. Ballast Nedam went through dark times during this period and after the takeover by Rönesans Holding our project team changed considerably. This makes me realize very well how special it is that we have realized this hospital. It was really a challenge.”

Despite the challenges, Marc's team managed to get it done at the end of 2019: the completion of a gigantic and complex hospital. “In the Netherlands you have different hospitals with different specialisms. And here you have one hospital where everything has to be in. Curaçao Medical Center has radiation bunkers, a large dialysis department, a pressure tank and countless types of modern equipment in the most diverse departments. Everything is in it. I had never built a hospital before, so I learned a lot from it. Especially from a technical perspective it made me very enthusiastic. I also learned a lot about healthcare: how processes in hospitals run and how staff and patients should be able to move quickly and efficiently from department to department. Certain departments have very strict hygiene requirements and building an OR complex or radiation room, for example, is an entire project in itself. In the end, we delivered everything according to European standards. And I am proud of that.”

Just before COVID-19 started

“This hospital functions well,” says Marc. “But at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was good to see this confirmed once again. We were just in time.” When Curaçao was also heavily affected by the virus that spreads around in the spring of 2021, half of the beds were occupied by corona patients. In the old hospital, care of this level and care on this scale would not have been possible.

The last dots on the i have almost been put in place. And the return to the Netherlands beckons. It is therefore almost time for Marc to pack his bags. “It was absolutely worth it, it was a wonderful time. Now let's see how things are going in the Netherlands. And, who knows, after a while we may leave for a new international Ballast Nedam project.”

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