Significant leaps forward in Cayman’s healthcare capacity helped the islands weather the storm of COVID-19 far better than it may have done a decade ago.
Private and public sector health leaders say the island is moving towards better ‘healthcare security’ – the ability to meet the needs of the resident population within Cayman’s borders.
Although Cayman has suffered some significant side effects from the lockdown and border closure, advances in what is available on island have reduced those impacts.
Increased and improved services at Doctors Hospital and through the Health Services Authority, as well as the arrival of Health City in East End, have increased the island’s healthcare options beyond that of many similarly sized populations.
The arrival of Aster MedCity within the next decade and the expansion of Health City are expected to be the catalyst for a further expansion of services. Leaders of those medical tourism projects believe their developments will help give Cayman comparable healthcare capacity to much larger nations, with the added advantage of much speedier access to care for local residents.
“In the last decade, the number of clinical practices has doubled and the number of physicians has more than doubled,” said Andrew Vincent, director of Integra Health Care Clinic and part of the project team working on the new Aster MedCity medical tourism project.
The arrival of Health City, he said, has had the most transformative impact in terms of adding new specialties and new intensive care capacity.
“Ten years ago the Cayman Islands had a pretty good but comparatively basic secondary care system, with some specialists available here and many gaps. The majority of more severe complaints were not addressable on island,” said Vincent.
“The past decade has changed that into first-class facilities for certain areas, more capacity across most areas and some specialist services.”
He hopes Aster Cayman MedCity will have a similar effect over the next decade. Envisaged in the first stage as a $350 million, 150-bed multi-specialty hospital, the project should fill in some of the remaining gaps in tertiary care available on island, according to Vincent.
He said it was not practical, however, to expect Cayman to achieve total self sufficiency in terms of medical care.
“It is probably more realistic to ask whether we would get close to the breadth of services accessible to individuals in major developed nations and in that we are likely to stand out,” he said.
Another advantage of having a thriving medical tourism industry, he believes, is that it will give Cayman excess capacity in times of emergency.
“The arrival of Aster will make us number one in the world for ICU beds per capita and add an additional facility within the system. This resilience is important to our economic wellbeing because the primary reason for such strict lockdowns is to avoid overwhelming healthcare systems. If the system holds excess capacity, we have a greater flexibility to balance healthcare security and economic demands in the event of another pandemic,” he said.
Health City plans
Health City already provided Cayman with additional capacity during COVID-19. Though it was initially shut down because of an outbreak of the virus, it went on to play a significant role in the national response.
The hospital has lessened the need for Caymanians to fly overseas for treatment, since it was opened in 2014.
Business development manager Shomari Scott says the facility’s expansion will see that trend continue in the next decade.
“The major gaps that exist at present are really two areas, being neonatal care and radiotherapy for cancer. To date we do currently offer chemotherapy and surgical care for cancer, meaning that the only area missing from providing the full suite would be radiation/radiotherapy.
The great news is that Health City within a year will fill both of these needs and therefore the island with its current variety of providers will be a stand-alone haven for medical care unparalleled in the Caribbean.”
The pandemic focussed the minds of Cayman’s health leaders on medical security in Cayman.
“We have started discussions from a strategic perspective to identify crucial clinical services that are needed on island,” said Dr. Delroy Jefferson, medical director of the Health Services Authority.
“We have already identified some areas and will announce these as they become available.”
He said the authority was already implementing a 30-year Master Facility and Service Development Plan to expand services and access to care to meet the changing demographics and new demands for healthcare services.
As well as spotlighting gaps in what is available in Cayman, the pandemic had the inverse impact of highlighting areas where Cayman stands out.
Dr. Yaron Rado, chairman of the board at Doctors Hospital – which became the primary facility for non-COVID patients during the early days of the pandemic – said the virus had, in some ways, forced Cayman residents to ‘shop local’ for healthcare.
“We talk a lot about medical tourism but we have actually had negative medical tourism here for some time.
“People have, out of habit, been going to Miami for fairly basic things that we can do just as well, if not better, here.”
He said Doctors Hospital had been steadily increasing its services, opening a new cath lab for heart patients in March, just as COVID caused Health City to shut down. The hospital’s new maternity ward also saw a significant increase in usage as the pandemic caused patients to be moved across from the Cayman Islands Hospital.
“There is a sea change in the way we are being seen and the services we offer,” he said.
For the healthcare system in general, Rado believes, there has been a perception shift about the quality of care available on island.
“It is in the overall mind that you can’t have proper medical services on an island of this size but we can do basics as good as anyone in the world.”