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Jan 25, 2008

U.H.S. buyers stay mum on financial details

Story PictureThe fact that Universal Health Services has been sold is now public knowledge but the financial details of the deal remain a mystery. This morning the new owners tried to explain why they’re staying mum to News Five’s Janelle Chanona.

Dr. Vinny, Belize Healthcare Partners
“I’m an outsider, I’m A-political and all I’m interested in is seeing the health care in Belize improve, bring in some services that are not currently available.”

Janelle Chanona, Reporting
Meet Dr. Muthugounder Venugopal…Dr. Vinny for short. After months of negotiations his group, Belize Healthcare Partners, are the new owners of Universal Health Services. But even today, Dr. Vinny can’t tell us exactly how the deal was closed.

Dr. Vinny
“All the obligations of U.H.S. to the Belize Bank has been satisfied.”

Janelle Chanona
“So it’s already been satisfied.”

Dr. Vinny
”Yes ma’m.”

Janelle Chanona
“Can you tell us how that was done?”

Dr. Vinny
“No, this is a private financial transaction. All I can say is Belize Bank is happy, and U.H.S. is happy.”

Janelle Chanona
“And you won’t have to be making any payments to the Belize Bank?”

Dr. Vinny
“Except for the loans we take from them, no. Not for previous obligations.”

Janelle Chanona
“So the debt just disappeared?”

Dr. Vinny
“No, It didn’t disappear, it was paid.”

Janelle Chanona
“But you can’t say how or by whom?”

Dr. Vinny
“No, It’s a private transaction, a transaction between the Belize Bank, our group and Universal and there is a confidentiality agreement and I hope you’ll respect that.”

Dr. Vinny’s position was reiterated earlier this week by cabinet minister Ralph Fonseca.

Janelle Chanona
“About U.H.S. can you give us the details of that arrangement? Is Government off the hook for the debt?”

Ralph Fonseca, PUP National Campaign Manager
“Yes absolutely, Government has its guarantee back and it has no obligations for U.H.S”

Janelle Chanona
“Okay, because I know that was a concern, whether we still have a liability to the Belize Bank.

Ralph Fonseca
“There is absolutely no liability to the Belize Bank.”

But today did Vinny confirm that there is an agreement under which Belmopan will pay U.H.S. three hundred thousand dollars every month for the next five years, subject to the approval of the House of Representatives. But the fact that payment plan closely resembles the number which Government had previously committed to with the Belize Bank for the U.H.S. debt has not gone unnoticed.

Dr. Vinny
“This is money that will be utilized for services for patients who can’t afford it. For example renal dialysis is an expensive procedure. In Belize only Universal Health Services has dialysis facility so most of the money that are going to be used for renal dialysis or hemo-dialysis. So this makes more people benefit from these services, second it hopefully will keep more people in Belize instead of going outside the country.”

Janelle Chanona
“So anybody that shows up here saying I need this done to me, or this done for me, U.H.S. won’t turn them away…”

Dr. Vinny
“No, we won’t be turning them away but there has to be some checks and balances. People are to vetted by the Ministry of Health and they will be referring the patients to us, saying they can’t afford but they still need dialysis and we’re gonna provide the service.”

Janelle Chanona
“You think this should be like a number one priority in healthcare right now?”

Maria Ack, Dialysis Nurse
“Well, it is priority right now because most of our patients in the past have died because they don’t have access to this type of care and more and more patients are depending on it because of the diabetes and the hypertension.”

Some dialysis patients are already being assisted by the Ministry of Health but on average, they require three sessions a week, at five hundred dollars for each sitting. Vinny says he’s also planning to change the billing system at U.H.S. to make services more affordable to patients.

Dr. Vinny
“We are going to try going to a more model of the U.S. system where the doctor if he sees a patient, he can charge for the patient and collect for the services. If they admit to the hospital, then the hospital will be charging for the hospital services and collect for that end of the fee. That way there is no confusion between what the doctor is making and what the hospital is making. If the doctor is willing to work hard, he can work more, if he is happy with not working so hard, it’ll be his choice.”

And according to Vinny, physicians already on staff, including Dr. Victor Lizarraga has committed to staying on at U.H.S..

Dr. Vinny
“This was his baby, he started it and from my conversation with him, he’s indicated he’ll still be involved in the institution.”

Janelle Chanona
“But not as management or anything?”

Dr. Vinny
“No ma’m. Not as management, as a surgeon.”

Belize Healthcare insists that while it will improve the services currently offered at U.H.S., in the near future patients will be able to access treatment options not currently available in Belize.

Dr. Vinny
“Our group plans to introduce oncology services that is both medical oncology, that is chemotherapy as well as radiation oncology that is x-ray treatment for patients with cancer. We are also planning on offering plastic surgery services where in Belize, there is a lot of diabetes but there is no endocrinologist. So they’re gonna have people rotating from the U.S. to help us initially with endocrinology service. Then people with arthritis can really benefit from a rheumatologist so those are the initially areas we are gonna concentrating on.”

Belize Healthcare Partners officially assumed control of U.H.S. today. Reporting for News Five, I am Janelle Chanona.

Published reports are that the new manager of U.H.S. will be Rosinell Craig, the former manager of Adventist schools.


Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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