Samuel Hess: “Our goal is to complement, not to compete – American Clinic expects to break ground by year’s endPOSTED: 09/10/12 1:31 AM
St. Maarten / By Hilbert Haar – The American Clinic expects to break ground for its $140 million project near Kimsha Beach towards the end of this year, project leaders Samuel Hess, Donald Haight and Ted Allen told this newspaper yesterday. The first phase will take 2.5 to 3 years to complete.
The clinic creates 200 jobs on top of the employment for 50 specialized physicians. The two acres the clinic has purchased right next to the Royal Palm Resort, the 50,000 square meter clinic will include retail space on the ground floor, a 3-story public parking garage for paid parking with a capacity for 687 cars, 100 hospital beds and 102 bedroom suites in a hotel setting for recovering patients and their families. The hospital part of the project will cover 15,000 square meters.
The second phase is a full-fledged cancer center that will be built on seven acres in Indigo Bay. It will have less than 100 beds and another 100 hotel beds. This second phase requires a $120 million investment.
The American Clinic has opted for traditional financing, initiator Samuel Hess, on orthopedic surgeon from Florida said. “We have been approached by private parties for our project, but we have decided to opt for traditional financing. The main financier is the National Investment Bank in Curacao and Banco di Caribe, which are owned by Ambassador Hushang Ansari.”
Hess travels several years ago with a group of spine surgeons to the Greek part of Cyprus – a first taste of the concept of medical tourism. “I thought: great idea, terrible location,” Hess says. “They are still working there.”
Hess researched alternative locations in the Caribbean and South America. In the end he focused on the Caribbean and initially aimed for Grand Cayman until he realized there was already a project there led by an Indian heart surgeon, Devi Sheti. “He wants to expand to a 2,000 bed hospital there. The resources were not there for us to make Grand Cayman an option.”
St. Maarten on the other hand has a huge pool of human capital,” Hess says. “We are looking at a hotel and a hospital component. Two million tourists come already to St. Maarten every year so it is easy to market.”
Initially Hess envisioned a clinic for spine and orthopedic surgery. “But after we had contacts with the government we realized that there is a need for other specialists, those that are not here yet.”
Hess dismisses the concerns of Dr. George Scot, the director of the St. Maarten Medical Center who fears that a medical tourism clinic would work just from 9 to 5 and lure hospital staff to its center with higher salaries and more attractive working hours.
“Our goal is not to compete but to complement,” Hess says. “We want to work with the medical center; it does not serve us to work against them.”
The American Clinic has taken several practical steps towards the realization of its multi-million dollar project. The company has been established as a B.V. (a private limited company), it has purchased the land near Kimsha Beach, struck a deal with Indigo Bay’s Steve Smith for 7 acres, and it has submitted the paperwork for a business license.
Hess has also struck a deal with the American University in Cupecoy, these days under the ownership of Devry Inc., to develop teaching programs for technical healthcare jobs and for nursing that will be offered to local students.
Hess notes that there are two types of medical costs: the expenditures SZV has to make for flying patients to off-island hospitals and the personal costs to the patients. “Flying patients out costs the SZV million of dollars. We are going to bring the specialists here and we are also able to give after care, something patients that have been treated off-island are missing right now. They also won’t have to deal with language barriers, and they won’t be out of reach for their families and friends.”
Hess has no illusions about the raw reality of the healthcare business. “We will offer care in the people’s back yard and we provide after care. We are able to change this situation instantly. But will there be complications? Will there be deaths? Absolutely. But we’re held to high standards in the United States and we will hold our specialists here to even higher standards. Apart from their medical qualifications they also have to be nice people because I cannot stand assholes.”
Hess hooked up with Donald Haight, a 17-year veteran corporate vice president at the Hospital Corporation of America, to develop the project. His man on the ground in St. Maarten is Ted Allen, a former manager of Mullet Bay who lived in St. Maarten since 1971 but who left in 1998 because he found the medical facilities on the island inadequate for his personal needs.
Hess says that there is no question that the American Clinic would take the luxury of opening from 9 to 5 on weekdays, as was suggested last week by SMMC-director Dr. George Scot. “We will operate on a 24/7 basis. We will need multiple levels of staffing but we are not out to pilfer staff from the local hospital. We want to train and to teach, and we will need the hospital like they need us. We would like to build a symbiotic relationship.”
Hess, Haight and Allen note that St. Maarten will develop into the preferred location for medical tourism in the Caribbean.”The airlift is important to clients,” Allen points out. “From many other islands they would have to come here first anyway.”
Haight emphasizes quality control. “We will measure our quality through the Joint Commission International, the largest accreditation body for the healthcare industry.”
On the practical end, the American clinic will work with local contractors to build its facilities, though for certain specialized parts of the hospital it will bring in experienced contractors in that field from the united States.
The specialists that will join the venture in the near future will buy into the hospital, so they will become part-owners. “That leads to higher efficiency and better care,” Hess says.