Vitals Global Healthcare, the company given a multimillion-euro contract to run three State hospitals, has lost its top two officials, The Sunday Times of Malta has learnt.
Less than a year after their appointment was announced by VGH last November, the company’s CEO Armin Ernst and operations chief Eric Buehrens have resigned and left Malta.
Their departure was not announced by VGH. When contacted, a spokeswoman confirmed they were no longer on VGH’s books.
Asked for the reason, she said: “Dr Ernst had some personal problems and he decided to go back to the US. With regard to the operations chief, he had a short-term contract which was always intended to last a few months.”
In its original announcement last November, VGH had not mentioned that its new operations chief was on a short-term contract but lauded his 20-year-long experience in the health sector. The company said he would be assisting Dr Ernst, a Harvard graduate and worldwide renowned lung specialist.
The spokeswoman said the VGH project was moving on and a new CEO had been identified who would be joining the management team in the coming weeks.
A source close to VGH said the two officials had not been seen around for some weeks now. “They just packed up and left,” the source said. “Now it’s back to square one, where all operations are being led by Ram Tumuluri.” This is a Pakistani-born businessman who signed the deal on behalf of the Singapore-based shareholders.
The VGH spokeswoman rejected the suggestion that that the sudden departure of its top officers may be related to financial difficulties.
“Things are moving on, even though the infrastructure is not the most noted thing at the moment. It is true the Gozo infrastructural works are currently slow, however we built a complete new ward at Karin Grech, we are refurbishing the old medical school and investing some €800,000 in the St Luke’s car park.
“However, the largest investment so far is in human resources as we are continuously investing in new medical staff and consultants. This is already leaving a positive effect on the quality of care. A case in point is stroke patients.”
Medical sources at both the Gozo and Karin Grech hospitals, whose operation has been taken over by VGH, dispute the positive picture painted by the company.
“Only a few changes have been made, which are almost insignificant. At the same time, infrastructural improvements are negligible, particularly when one considers that VGH was bound to invest some €200 million in its first years,” one doctor told this newspaper.
According to the contract signed between the government and VGH, which has no track record in the sector anywhere in the world, the government will be paying some €70 million a year in return for hiring some 700 beds at the Gozo, Karin Grech and St Luke’s hospitals.
Taxpayers will be forking out about €2.1 billion for the medical services provided by VGH over a 30-year period. This amount does not cover all required services: the government will have to fork out many more millions for pharmaceutical products and surgery over and above the established minimum service. Extra beds required will also have to be paid for as an additional cost.
The contract also stipulates that the government will have to fork out €36 million so that new medical school facilities in Gozo can be operated by Barts of London, and another €30 million for an air ambulance service between Gozo and Mater Dei.
The deal, which has been harshly criticised by the PN over its lack of transparency and one-sidedness, was negotiated by former health minister Konrad Mizzi, who was implicated in the Panama Papers scandal.
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