Steward Health Care System LLC on Tuesday said it had finalised a public-private partnership "to deliver exceptional health care to the people of Malta" but gave no details about the deal.

The company, which is the largest private hospital operator in the US, will take over the running of St Luke's, Karin Grech and Gozo hospitals, which had been handed to Vitals Healthcare almost two years ago.

It is understood that Steward has bought a majority stake in Vitals.

"Through the public-private partnership that resulted from Steward’s purchase of Vitals Global Healthcare’s concessions to run facilities entrusted to it, Steward will also construct and run campus facilities for Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry, and offer Steward hospitals as teaching facilities for medical students. Steward intends to invest in these facilities so that they stay and thrive in Malta," the company said. 

We will invest in the medical facilities entrusted to us, upgrading them into state-of the-art hospitals- Steward CEO

It said its innovative care model has successfully helped patients across the United States receive high-quality care while reducing medical expenses, said Ralph de la Torre, Chairman and CEO of Steward Health Care.

“We look forward to implementing this new model of exceptional care in Malta. We will invest in the medical facilities entrusted to us, upgrading them into state-of the-art hospitals, and will help ensure that the Maltese people live healthy, active lives.”

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat was quoted as saying: "Steward Health Care shares our same vision for the future of healthcare in Malta".

"Our resolve to upgrade Malta and Gozo's healthcare services to world-class levels has been given a further boost through this partnership. With its impressive track record, Steward is the ideal partner to realise such a critical infrastructural upgrade of our hospitals while offering the best medical services to patients,” he added.

The announcement, issued in a statement in Boston, comes a day after Opposition leader Adrian Delia went to court in a bid "for the people to get their hospitals back".

He argued that Vitals had not met its contractual obligations and therefore the government could annul the agreement and get the hospitals back, rather than consent to the deal with Steward.  

READ: Watch: Delia files legal challenge to strike down hospitals contracts

READ: Vitals in a desperate financial situation

Steward said it has "transformed health care in America" by turning around struggling hospitals and embedding them in a new, comprehensive delivery model that is designed to support local communities and produce better health outcomes for patients.

It is now the largest private hospital operator in the United States with 36 community hospitals across 10 states. The company employs approximately 40,000 health care professionals.

Steward said its hospitals regularly receive top awards for quality and safety, including the “Gold Ribbon Seal in Healthcare” from the Joint Commission on Accreditation and an “A” rating for Hospital Safety from the Leapfrog Group. 

“Steward has achieved extraordinary results in the United States, by pioneering a new model for care that rewards doctors and nurses for keeping patients healthy and close to home,” said Armin Ernst, President of Steward Health Care International LLC.

We look forward to bringing this model, and Steward’s innovative technology, to the people of Malta so they receive world-class care that remains free- Steward president

“We look forward to bringing this model, and Steward’s innovative technology, to the people of Malta so they receive world-class care that remains free.”

It said it has built some of the most innovative health care technologies in the United States, which have been at the heart of the company’s success in improving care for patients. These technology-enabled platforms help to predict diseases and illnesses before they spread, reduce excess time a patient spends in the hospital, and leverage analytics to help administrators plan appropriate staffing levels. Steward also utilizes state-of-the-art electronic medical records (EMR) and electronic intensive care units (eICU) across its system. The company intends to deploy these technologies in Malta. 

Government welcomes hospitals deal

In a statement, the government welcomed Steward's deal.

"The government welcomes this development and remains fully committed to ensure that all obligations as set out in the concession agreement are adhered to, which ensures the completion of world-class facilities for the Gozo General Hospital, St Luke's Hospital and Karin Grech Hospital as well as setting up the renowned Barts Medical School in Malta," the government said. 

It said the deal confirmed its plans to consolidate and upgrade the free provision of medical care to all patients, while safeguarding the rights of medical healthcare professionals in Malta and Gozo.

Meanwhile, the group which calls itself the Civil Society Network said that it supports action to stop the privatisation and commercialisation of Malta's public hospitals. It also expressed solidarity with patients, unions and health workers.

"The government is transforming public health to real estate at the expense of the common good. It has bound taxpayers and future governments to pay 100 million euro and all debts if the hospitals are taken back from Vitals. This is scandalous and must be challenged, especially when the government gave equipment worth millions for just 1 Euro to Vitals and when the company has already received more than 50 million Euro in government funds. Sources quoted by the press indicate that Vitals now has more than 55 million euro in debts," it said.

It insisted that the public has the right to know where all this money has gone and why the government is hiding information from the press, parliament and civil society.


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