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For-profit hospital looks doomed

Chinese company’s Jeju venture hasn’t hired a single doctor
Mar 05,2019
Korea’s first for-profit hospital in Jeju may never open as it failed to hire a single doctor within the time it was given to prepare to operate.

Chinese company Greenland Group received the license to operate a hospital in Seogwipo, Jeju Island, on Dec. 5.

According to the Medical Service Act of Korea, a medical institute needs to begin its operations within 90 days of receiving a business license.

In other words, they need to have at least one licensed doctor at hand. The hospital currently has none.

“We gave them 90 days to prepare, but they did not begin operations at the hospital without a legitimate reason,” an official of the Jeju provincial government told the JoongAng Ilbo. “So we are considering revoking their license.”

The Greenland Group’s hospital in Jeju is the first for-profit hospital in Korea.

It is the first hospital to have been established with foreign investment, which is illegal for hospitals except in the free economic zones and in Jeju.

The Jeju provincial government limited the hospital’s services to foreign patients only, likely because of local opposition to a foreign company establishing the country’s first for-profit hospital.

Jeju Gov. Won Hee-ryong, at the time of the hospital’s establishment in December, told the press, “We allow the establishment of the hospital as an institute that would be able to treat only the foreigners visiting Jeju Island.”

The provincial government plans to hold hearings with investors in the hospital before beginning the process of revoking its license.

In order for the hospital to commence operations, it needs licensed medical doctors.

The hospital hired nine doctors, but all of them quit, according to the Korea Hospital Workers Union’s Jeju branch office.

When a reporter for the JoongAng Ilbo visited recently, there were some 60 nurses and administrative staff members at the hospital, though they did not seem to have specific tasks on hand.

“We don’t really know what kind of situation we’re in either,” one nurse told the paper.

“The opening date repeatedly got delayed, and a lot of the employees got jobs elsewhere.”

The hospital is facing financial difficulties as well. According to a civic organization opposed to for-profits hospitals, the hospital failed to pay Daewoo E&C, Posco and Hanwha E&C construction costs of 121.8 billion won ($108.1 million), so Greenland has ceded the rights to the property to the construction companies.

On Feb. 26, Greenland Group asked the provincial government to extend the deadline to start operations at the hospital. Earlier, on Feb. 14, it lodged a complaint with the Jeju District Court to lift the provincial government’s directive that the hospital only provide medical services to foreigners.

“They are only asking for an extension to the deadline so they have better footing in the suit,” said a member of the Korean Health and Medical Workers’ Union. “The Jeju government had better begin the process to revoke the license without further ado.”

BY CHOI CHOONG-IL, ESTHER CHUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]