Every day as I walk to work in one of our hospitals, I am struck by the unique position our healthcare facilities hold in island communities – places where medical science meets the extremes of emotion. human. Joy, relief, pain, grief – all are experienced every day, to one degree or another, by patients and staff at Gozo General, Karin Grech and St Luke’s hospitals.
As I often tell our teams, patients may forget our name, but they will never forget how we make them feel and we always do our best to ensure that the care we provide makes patients feel valued and respected.
I am incredibly proud of the staff at Steward Malta, this tight-knit and cohesive team who work quietly but passionately to improve patient care at Gozo, Karin Grech and St Luke’s Hospitals. I am proud of their commitment to the many adversities we have overcome together to bring together quality people and health facilities to serve the communities in which we live.
Things have never been easy. Everyone on the island has an opinion about Steward’s entry into Malta and its operations since the company agreed to step in, in good faith, to run what remained of the doomed Vitals Global Healthcare (VGH) franchise. ).
But, as someone who has run our operations for the past three years – and as a physician and public health consultant myself – I do not recognize Steward’s unfair image that is too often trotted out to score political points, forgetting the many skilled, talented and unique professionals who make up Steward Malta and who, day in and day out, take care of our families, friends and neighbours.
The difficulties were obvious from the start. Steward was approached by the Maltese government to take over the concession, which at the time in 2018 was in a dire state of emergency. It is no secret that VGH, under the close control of its owners, did not fulfill its obligations, nor did the government demand it.
In addition, there were no funds left for the salaries of medical and non-medical staff working in hospitals. This was unknown to VGH’s own management teams at the time, who had no visibility into the owners’ financial situation.
The government gave Steward just two weeks to agree to take over the responsibilities of the concession and ensure that doctors, nurses, cleaners and all those whose livelihoods depended on VGH could receive their salaries. . This was accompanied by a commitment, to Steward and the wider community (including the European Commission), that the terms of the deal would be renegotiated to make the concession viable.
Things were actually worse than most people think. Everyone knows the faults of the dealership itself. The National Audit Office has been clear in its two reports, and in particular the second, about the problems inherent in the original agreement and the actions of those linked to it, while even the EU lambasted the terms of the concession, calling it “unbanking”.
Upon taking over the operations of VGH, Steward discovered that there was no management account.– Nadine Delicata
This ill-conceived dealership agreement was further aggravated by the actions of the owners of VGH. VGH had created a series of companies, transferring assets between them and burning funds. On taking over operations from VGH, Steward also discovered that there were no management accounts at all and that – shockingly – there had never been any attempt to audit the company by authorities. competent. The owners of VGH had been left unsupervised, with a huge amount of taxpayers’ money, with no one checking how they were meeting their commitments.
Steward was faced with a complex situation and had to deal with it alone. The priority was and still is the provision of healthcare to our communities, but on top of that we had to build a functional healthcare business from scratch: reinject funds and assets into the business, close unnecessary satellite companies and clean up the ugly mess. left behind by VGH owners.
When discrepancies were found, Steward was not rewarded but punished. We discovered a staggering amount of VAT which not only had not been paid by VGH but which the authorities had failed to detect, a probable error if no audit had ever been carried out. It was Steward who transparently and openly reported this issue to the tax authorities, only to be told that he was required to pay for the negligence of the VGH owners.
And what about the renegotiations of the terms promised when Steward tackled the fiasco left behind by VGH executives? Three times in the past three years, Steward has finalized negotiations with the government to agree terms that would make the concession viable; three times the government withdrew from signing at the very last minute. It is essential for us and our promises to taxpayers. Only new conditions will allow the banks to lend to us to finance the construction of hospitals and other commitments, which they will not do under the initial conditions of the agreement.
Despite these setbacks, we have made significant investments, even as COVID-19 has placed a heavy burden on all of us. Hospitals have been made safer, thanks to investments in infrastructure and facilities and new equipment from our international network. We delivered Barts Medical School in a record time of 18 months, a state-of-the-art construction that has been hailed as one of the best medical schools in the Mediterranean, firmly establishing Gozo Hospital as a teaching campus .
Quality metrics and key performance indicators were introduced, ensuring that clinical services were aligned with patient needs and providing regular monitoring and reporting to government. Our staff remain dedicated to their jobs, working harder than ever throughout the pandemic to keep our communities safe.
When the takeover took place in February 2018, there was a sense of optimism about Steward’s ability to turn the tide. Four years on, I remain confident that we can deliver world-class hospitals to Malta and its people, on time and on budget, leveraging Steward’s international expertise and delivering the architectural plans which we finalized and submitted to the government in 2019.
Emotions may continue to run high both inside and outside of hospitals, but Steward continues to focus on our number one priority: our patients.
Nadine Delicata, President of Steward Health Care Malta
Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.