Construction could start by the middle of next year on a US$350 million medical tourism complex to be built over three phases in Cayman
The news came at a joint press conference by the Cayman Islands Government (CIG) and the investors, Aster Cayman Medcity, for a hospital, with accompanying residential assisted-living facility and a medical school.
The project is expected to provide around 800 jobs for Caymanians along with imported specialist workers.
Making the announcement, Hon. Premier Alden welcomed the choice of Cayman for the facility which has been in negotiations for some time.
The project will be a joint undertaking between the investors, Aster, and CIG.
Mr McLaughlin said the choice of Cayman by the Indian-owned Dubai-based company, “says much of how the Cayman Islands is viewed internationally as a place for world-class tourism and commerce as well as an emerging healthcare tourism centre."
On that latter point, in responding to a question from Caymanian Times on the possibilities of medical tourism as a potential growth sector for Cayman, the Premier he felt it was “incredibly important”.
Commenting on the unveiling of the Aster Cayman Medcity project, he said: “This exciting news today is so welcome as part of the vision that we have for healthcare provision in these islands.
“I do not believe that Cayman can continue to rely without massive risk on (vacation) tourism and financial services as the sole pillars of tour economy. We have to do everything that we can to broaden our economic base and make ourselves more resilient to economic shocks.”
That comment was seen in the context of the devastating impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on Cayman’s tourism sector and its ripple effects through the wider economy.
Stating that Cayman will continue to embrace the tourism industry, the Premier outlined that the intention is to have both aspects of tourism complementing each other.
"I'm hopeful tourism bounces back,” he declared and went on to explain that “leisure tourism is something that people do when they have money and time to do it, but when you get sick you want access to the best healthcare that you can find and that you can afford.”
“It is not discretionary spending," he explained, "so that makes it more resilient as an industry sector.”
Project Director for Aster MedCity Cayman is Gene Thompson, who was deeply involved in the development of Health City Cayman.
“I have long advocated for the diversification of our economy especially into sectors and industries that are growing and are relatively recession-proof and in which the Cayman Islands can play a prominent role,” said Mr Thompson, director of Thompson Development Ltd, a leading Cayman development company.
"Health in general and medical tourism specifically is very much one of those industries," he noted.
Mr Thompson who will be overseeing the multi-phase project said experiences from the previous Health City are being used.
While site selection and some other aspects of the Aster MedCity Cayman project are being finalised, the Project Director said, “I would suspect that by mid next year we would break ground, and in the first phase I think if I’m not mistaken, that we would provide about 700 or 800 jobs and they would be primarily Cayman constriction companies.”
On the importance of the project to the economy, Mr Thompson has a view that “some of the heat in the economy now (largely driven by construction) is going to slow down by middle to late next year” and he feels that the MedCity project “will take up some of that slack.”
Hon. Minister of Health Dwayne Seymour echoed the need for a third pillar of the economy saying that “medical tourism seems the way to go.”
“It has proven that it could work through other entities that are here,” he observed noting that the government was keen to avoid an overlap with other existing entities in the jurisdiction referring to Health City.
Non-competing conditions are included in the agreement between MedCity and CIG with the exception of medical establishments owned by Caymanians.
“Health City are heart specialists and we wanted to ensure that Cayman itself and the region could benefit from having a diverse amount of offerings,” Mr Seymour stated.
Speaking via Zoom from Dubai, Aster MedCity’s Chairman and Managing Director, Dr Azad Moopen, said a lot of research went into selecting Cayman as the location for their regional project.
He spoke of proximity to the US and Canada for patient travel and added: “It’s a developed country and unlike many other Caribbean islands it is much more advanced by way of the standard of living, per capita income, and it is being considered as a very developed destination by people who are in the mainland.”
“We feel confident that this association will be a win-win proposition for both Cayman Islands and Aster in view of the market potential and our capabilities,” Dr Moopen stated.
Based on a concept of promoting Cayman as ‘the destination for Destination Healthcare, the agreement will see Aster initially develop a hospital of around 150-beds with the scope for future expansion, an assisted living facility and a healthcare university in the long-term.
Aster says “with this project it aims to replicate its “Medcity” concept, which has proven to be highly successful in its flagship facility in India.
“Over the coming decades, the investment by Aster will inject hundreds of millions into the construction sector and create nearly 2,000 jobs in both direct and indirect roles,” it said in a statement.
As outlined by Premier McLaughlin, the multi-year project will be built over three phases.
Phase One is expected to be completed over around three years during which Aster will also provide a clinic on Cayman Brac.
Phase Two planned for around three years after the hospital is operational will see the construction of assisted living and independent living facilities each comprising 100 units.
Phase Three earmarked for around seven years after the hospital has been operational will comprise a medical university which will be integrated with the hospital. Plans are to expand the hospital to about 500 beds during that phase and to also add more living quarters.
Aster DM Healthcare Limited is described as one of the largest private healthcare service providers operating in multiple Gulf states in the Middle East and is an emerging healthcare player in India.