Health City targets first patients

Shomari Scott goes from attracting tourists to targeting ‘medical tourists’

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Former Director of Tourism Shomari Scott will be the man responsible for attracting patients to Cayman Islands Health City in his new role as marketing director of the multimillion-dollar medical tourism venture. 

Construction is nearing completion on the $80 million hospital, with the official opening scheduled for Feb. 25, 2014, and the first patients expected to arrive about a week later.  

Construction work on the hotel, the next phase of the project, is set to begin in March. 

For the hosptial, the emphasis has now switched from construction to staffing and attracting patients, initially from the Caribbean region, as directors await official accreditation to open up the more lucrative U.S. market – a process that will take around six months. 

So far, more than 3,000 applications have been turned in for 140 positions at the facility. Key positions have been filled with doctors from India, and the majority of the nursing staff is likely to come from the U.S. or Canada, according to Project Director Gene Thompson. 

He said some Caymanians would be hired, mostly in administrative roles, but the lack of qualified personnel locally for extremely specialized positions means most staff will come from overseas. 

Mr. Scott, who was credited with helping achieve a surge in visitor arrivals in his previous role with the Ministry of Tourism, will be on familiar territory in his new job – marketing the Cayman Islands to medical tourists. 

He said he understands the vision of medical tourism as the “third pillar” of Cayman’s economy and looks forward to helping ensure the necessary patient flows to “save lives and make it successful.” 

He said the hospital, which aims to offer surgeries more than 50 percent less expensive than in the U.S., is a great product to market. 

Mr. Thompson said it has always been the plan to start slowly with Caribbean patients first and then ramp up marketing the hospital to insurance companies, private individuals and employers in the U.S and elsewhere in the region. 

He said the quality of care and the low cost would help get around the logistical challenge of getting to the Cayman Islands, which for many in the region involves a round-trip via Miami. 

Countering skepticism about the economic sustainability of marketing the project in the Caribbean, he said there are vast numbers of insured citizens across the region who could be a significant customer base. 

“We wouldn’t be spending $80 million if this was not a feasible project, and this is only the first phase. 

“In the first two or three weeks are you going to see a large patient flow? No. After four or five months are you going to see a large patient flow? Yes, and it will be ramping up from there. 

“The market is much bigger than this little hospital project can handle.” 

He accepts that logistics, including airlift, are an issue, and said directors were in talks with Cayman Airways and other local operators, including Blue Sky airlines, a new venture planned by a group of Cayman-based businessmen. 

“I wish they could start tomorrow,” he said of the airline, which wants to run scheduled and charter flights throughout the Caribbean and Central America, skipping Miami. 

Mr. Thompson said the hospital has been built to the required standards of the Joint Commission International healthcare accreditation body, but needs to be operational to earn full JCI status, something that will open up the American market. 

“The U.S. market is a strong market, and we are going to go after it,” he said, though he insisted it is not essential to the economic sustainability of the project, 

Also on Thursday, Judy-Ann Ebanks was introduced as Health City’s new human resources director. Senior medical positions have already been filled. 

“There will be folks from India, the U.S. and Canada,” said Mr. Thompson. “The senior specialists are all from India.” 

He said the aim is to find qualified Caymanians for around 25 percent of the roles. The long-term plan is to build a medical training facility on site and work with the Department of Education and the University College of the Cayman Islands to create opportunities in the medical field for Caymanians. 

“We are not going to sugarcoat this. This is not a short-term thing where we hire a couple of Caymanians or give a few scholarships to make us feel good. It is a long-term commitment to recruit and train Caymanians for the health-care industry.” 

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Construction work on the hospital building is almost complete. – PHOTO: JAMES WHITTAKER
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