Hospital’s fate in the wings

The fate of Cayman’s private hospital will be decided before the end of January, according to its owner.

Dr. Steve Tomlinson said last week he is considering several offers including a bid by a group of US plastic surgeons who have met his asking price of US$11 million for the Chrissie Tomlinson Memorial Hospital.

‘Right now, I’m giving it about a month to make up my mind.’

However, if he receives enough support from local doctors, Dr. Tomlinson said he would consider calling off the sale. That scenario seems unlikely though as two recent meetings he held with private practitioners to appeal for more referrals and to consider becoming tenants or shareholders in the hospital were not encouraging.

‘Only two private doctors came to the second meeting. It indicated to me that there is not much interest out there.’

The hospital was put up for sale late November. Dr. Tomlinson is adamant it is not on the market because of money problems – the 18-bed facility suffered a $1-million loss during its first year of operation in 2000 but has turned a modest profit every year since then – but rather that he and his staff have had to put in long hours to keep it financially viable.

‘The bank is happy with the financial performance of the hospital. There is no pressure from the bank. But for it to work financially, I have to put in very long hours. My average day is 16 to 18 hours. It’s at great expense to my personal life and I’m not prepared to keep that up.’

More doctors on staff would ease that pressure, especially to help cover the night shift. There are 15 doctors on staff; five employed directly by the hospital. The others are tenants or visiting specialists. Hospital staff stands at around 70, a drop of about 30 employees since it opened.

He said an encouraging sign is that the Cayman Orthopaedic Group and a private practitioner recently took up residence at the hospital.

‘They’re certainly helping the bottom line.’

A greater number of referrals would also generate more revenue for the hospital to cover its high overhead costs of operating 24-hours a day. While its outpatients department is busy, other services such as radiology and lab facilities are under-utilized.

‘You still have to employ people and pay people but if they’re not 100 per cent employed, it affects the bottom line. We can cope with more work but the only way I see that happening is if doctors with established practices on the island utilize the hospital.’

Dr. Tomlinson plans to close the hospital’s clinic in West Bay, which opened in April, by the end of the year as a cost-cutting measure. He said staffing difficulties and high costs prompted that decision.

‘The clinic only makes about $500 a week. That doesn’t even cover the salary of the nurse.’

Dr. Tomlinson feels the hospital could have been better served by the government, given the introduction of the Cayman Islands National Insurance Company and its restrictions on usage to just the George Town Hospital.

‘That is not encouraging the growth of the private health care system.’

Dr. Tomlinson said there has been a lot of interest in the property, which is on 4.5 acres in George Town. Tomlinson is asking US$14 million with equipment or US$11 million without equipment.

He has received around 10 serious bids so far, the majority from groups wanting to revamp the facility for commercial use. He said the government has also offered to buy it for the asking price though has not negotiated with the realtor but has approached him directly. He said there are terms contingent in the sale but could not disclose them.

Dr. Tomlinson said he would prefer to keep it operating as a private hospital but his options don’t look promising.

‘At this stage, my frustration is long over. I’m a little saddened by the fact it had to come to this because I know it is a great idea for the country. I haven’t given up on the idea that it could still go on but it really depends on others. It doesn’t depend on me alone anymore.’