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‘Gozo Hospital should serve as hospital, not health centre’ – Mater Dei doctor

Steward Healthcare VP Alessandra Pace called out by doctor “knee-deep” in dealing with coronavirus patients on a daily basis, saying “offloading all the load” on Mater Dei was “unrealistic”.

Gozo hospital

A Mater Dei doctor “knee-deep” in the coronavirus outbreak has slammed Steward Healthcare’s Vice President for Corporate Affairs and Communications Alessandra Pace about the “offload” of the coronavirus outbreak onto Mater Dei Hospital.

He was critical of Public Private Partnerships (PPP) that “disappears” when “the shit hits the fan”. He said political decisions had put the “universality of healthcare at risk”.

“Offloading all the load of this outbreak on MDH (Mater Dei Hospital) is unrealistic. As far as I am aware, Stewards took over the leadership of GGH (Gozo General Hospital) with the aim that it serves as a hospital, not a health centre,” he told Pace on social media.

The comments were made in a Facebook post where the medical doctor shared The Shift’s article on Saturday that questioned Steward Healthcare’s contribution to the coronavirus pandemic while the company continues to receive €70 million per year, or €188,000 per day, from taxpayers to manage three public hospitals.

These payments do not stop despite the government carrying the additional burden of a pandemic, struggling to find human resources and the space to host hospital beds.

The article showed that Steward Healthcare was sending patients testing positive for COVID-19 to Malta’s public hospital Mater Dei, which is managed by the government. Despite Steward Healthcare boasting of an emergency service connecting it to the mainland by helicopter, infected patients were being sent to Malta by chartered ferries.

Meanwhile, in Malta, the medical school’s library at university now hosts hospital beds, and final year medical students are being called in to give a helping hand. Columnist Ranier Fsadni pointed out:

“It is because it is a crisis, with the medical school’s library given over to make space for extra beds, that everyone has a right to know about Steward’s beds. Not least since, when the hospitals were first sold, one of the justifications was that it would add beds to our healthcare system.”

The doctor, whose name is being withheld to avoid any interference with his workload, expressed his frustration publicly. “When the shit hits the fan, the Public Private Partnership disappears… there’s no money in pandemics”.

Pace intervened to comment beneath his post, saying that as a doctor he should know better than to share this “politicised bullshit”.

“What should be done? Close the hospital to send staff to Mater Dei so that the Gozitans are left to die alone as the article suggests?” Pace said. (Needless to say, this suggestion was never made in the article)

She reiterated that the company was following guidelines by the government and preparing its hospitals to deal with the virus, leading the doctor to point that he was already “knee-deep” in dealing with the coronavirus outbreak on a daily basis, and he was not impressed with Pace’s “rousing talk” about those on the frontline at the Gozo Hospital.

“The frontline will soon be everywhere, and it is not I who has politicised the issue, it is politicised by previous decisions that put the universality of healthcare at risk,” he said.

Reacting to Pace’s comment that Gozo’s patients deserve healthcare too, the doctor said: “I have no idea what the right Gozitans have to healthcare has to do with any of this. Offloading all the load of this outbreak on MDH is unrealistic”.

He went on to ask why a patient suffering from COVID-19 should not be treated at the Gozo hospital. “Why the unnecessary transfer to Malta which risks exposing others at multiple steps on the way?” he asked.

Pace then deleted her comment, arguing that she did so to emphasise that she was not commenting on the post on behalf of Stewards but as “herself”.

The medical professional pointed out to her that was the whole issue. “If you are earning your keep off something, and your words and work can influence patients’ lives, you cannot separate the two,” he told Pace.

“The way we fight this pandemic is influenced by multiple political decisions taken over the last few years,” he said, adding that it was a right and duty to scrutinise those decisions.

Steward Healthcare said that it was only when the medical plan enters ‘Phase 2’ that COVID-19 positive patients needing admission will be cared for at the Gozo General Hospital. Steward did not clarify what Phase 2 meant, and the Health Ministry did not answer questions sent.

When The Shift insisted on Steward Healthcare clarifying the details of the contribution in the public interest, Pace said it was “insulting” to be talking about money at a time like this.

Last year, The Shift revealed that Steward Healthcare paid the total sum of €1 to take over the concession from Vitals Global Healthcare (VGH) for three of the country’s public hospitals, while the original once-secret owners left with millions.

Steward Healthcare’s Head, Armin Ernst, also led Vitals Global Healthcare, making him present as the concession was transferred from one hand to the other.

The Shift’s cross-border investigation into the actions of Vitals Global Healthcare abroad revealed Steward Healthcare, through the presence of Ernst, taking over concessions negotiated on the Malta model in a number of some of the most corrupt countries in Europe.

Who is Alessandra Pace?

She was the poster girl and campaigner for the Labour Party in the lead up to the 2013 general elections that saw Joseph Muscat gain power. She also featured in the Labour Party’s official campaign video ‘Malta Tagħna Lkoll’.

Still in her 20s when the Party got elected, her experience in communications was limited to working for Labour-related outfits. She was appointed to the Prime Minister’s Office straight after the general election.

She was then appointed to assist Michelle Muscat’s friend, Phyllis Muscat, during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in 2015. She joined Vitals Global Healthcare when the once-secret outfit that came from nowhere and with no experience in healthcare was given the concession for three of Malta’s public hospitals for 30 years, which can be extended to 99 years.

Like and with Armin Ernst, Pace transitioned with the concession from Vitals Global Healthcare to Steward Healthcare and climbed up the ranks as the deal described by the Council of Europe as an “inadvisable, underhand deal“ became increasingly controversial.

Both her parents were also put on the payroll of State authorities.

Read The Shift’s investigative series on the hospitals deal.

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