Government on Monday announced plans for a new US$350 million, 500-bed hospital in Grand Cayman, called Aster Cayman Medcity.
Dubai-based Aster DM Healthcare is the company behind the project, which will be managed by local developer Gene Thompson, who previously had been involved in Health City Cayman Islands.
The new health facility, which will be built in phases over several years, will include a hospital, assisted-living accommodations and a medical university, and will provide medical care to both local patients and medical tourists, the premier said.
Speaking at a press conference Monday morning, Premier Alden McLaughlin said the Cayman Islands government was entering into a partnership with Aster and would be executing a legal agreement relating to the project immediately following the briefing.
Unlike the deal with Health City, the only concessions being given to the Aster project relate to medical equipment and supplies, and no concessions are being granted in relation to the construction of the facility, McLaughlin said.
The initial phase of the project entails a 150-bed multi-specialty hospital at a location that has yet to be determined. This phase will also include the construction of a medical clinic on Cayman Brac, the premier said.
Dr. Azad Moopen, founder of Aster DM Healthcare, speaking via Zoom, said the first phase of the facility was expected to be commissioned within “the next two to three years”.
He said the facility would target the 1.4 million medical tourists who travel overseas for healthcare from the United States annually, as well as patients from Canada and countries throughout the Caribbean.
Aster has some 365 medical facilities across eight countries, employing more than 19,000 employees.
McLaughlin outlined the project’s phases, which are as follows:
- Phase 1: The establishment of a clinic on Cayman Brac and the construction of the 150-bed hospital on Grand Cayman with “tertiary and quaternary care”. (Quaternary care involves ultra-specialised treatments). The Brac clinic would offer telemedicine services and would include an infusion centre.
- Phase 2: Beginning three years after the hospital becomes operational, this phase involves the launch of assisted and independent living facilities, each comprising 100 units.
- Phase 3: The construction of a medical university and the expansion of the hospital to 500 beds. This would occur about seven years after the hospital is operational.
The premier also stated that Aster would provide a US$350,000 scholarship, to be administered by the Department of Education, consisting of an annual scholarship for $50,000 yearly for two years, $75,000 a year for next two years, and $100,000 for fifth year.
Thompson said, similar to the arrangement at Health City, Caymanian employees would be given priority in working on the construction of the site and in jobs at the facility once it opens.
Nearly 2,000 jobs are expected to be created in “both direct and indirect roles”, officials said at Monday’s briefing.
“This comes at a time when it is particularly needed,” Thompson said. “And just to be clear, we will again favour local construction employees and insist where possible Caymanians will fill the roles. They will be given the opportunity to do so above others upon being qualified, and that attitude will continue throughout the entire project.”
He said that, besides bringing revenue and jobs to the islands, medical tourism would also bring people here who would spend money not just at the hospital but in many local businesses.
Thompson said medical tourism reports indicate that the industry has a consistent 17% compounded annual growth rate, and is expected to reach US$112 billion by 2024.
“I can’t think of many industries that thrive to that degree,” he said, “and I can’t think of a single reason why we wouldn’t want to be a part of that industry that could give that much benefit.”
McLaughlin, giving details of the concessions that would be afforded to the new hospital, said it would not have to pay duty on medical equipment or supplies for 25 years after the commencement of construction of phase 1.
He stressed that government would not be reducing, waiving or deferring custom duties on construction materials for the project, and would not be waiving stamp duty on the purchase of land.
Also, under the agreement government has signed with Aster, for five years after the hospital begins operation, no other non-Caymanian entity will be allowed to open a new large-scale medical tourism facility on island. This does not apply to any existing medical-tourism provider, like Health City.
Local medical professionals in the past have been critical of the concessions given by government to Health City, saying the facility had an unfair advantage over home-grown health facilities that are required to pay duty on supplies and equipment.
Addressing this issue at the briefing Monday, the premier said concessions had to be given to such large-scale operations as Aster or Health City, otherwise they would be unlikely to set up facilities in Cayman.
“No other entity in Cayman, up until now, has made the kind of investment in healthcare that Health City did,” he said, adding that the East End hospital got “an incredible amount of concessions, but arguably, without those concessions, it would never have happened”.
He said, “Aster has asked for very little in terms of concessions. In return, they are building a $350 million facility which is going to have an immense impact on Cayman’s economy, [give] opportunities for Caymanians, not just in the construction of the facility, but the operation of the facility, educational opportunities, and access to some of the best healthcare in the world.”
The premier said since the creation of Health City, the number of doctors in private practice has “probably tripled”, which he said showed the establishment of the large-scale facility had not negatively impacted local medical practices.
He added that, in usual non-pandemic times, the field of healthcare is recession-proof, and expanding the islands’ medical tourism capacity will mean Cayman will not have to rely solely on its two main economic pillars of tourism and financial services.
McLaughlin said Aster’s willingness “to invest several hundred million dollars in the Cayman Islands economy to develop this world-class facility, in spite of the global economic impact caused by the COVID-19, speaks volumes of their confidence in the Cayman Islands, and it also speaks volumes of their confidence in the resilience of the Cayman Islands’ resilience and our people”.
Aster’s expansion into Caribbean
Moopen said his company had been looking to expand to other countries outside Asia and the Middle East, and were “in search of an ideal location and supportive government and associates to make this a reality”.
“When we visited the Cayman Islands and met the honourable premier and other senior leaders, we were greatly impressed by the business-friendly environment, the easy accessibility to the highest levels of government, and the transparency along with the quality-focussed approach,” he said.
This would be the second Aster Medcity set up by the group. One already exists in Kochi, Kerala, in southern India.