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Asian Hospital Failures: Exposing Aspen Medical and Their Problems

Billions of dollars awarded, years given, and no lasting positive change in sight. Aspen Medical is known as an innovative healthcare solutions provider that operates on a global scale.  However, the Australian-based company has caused a rise in concern with its intentions and oversight regarding Asian hospital failure.

Take into consideration that Aspen is the only certified private company used for humanitarian support and emergency medical response to humanitarian efforts. The lines of scope become a bit cloudy given that the company is very “for-profit”.

The issue with this is determining whether Aspen Medical knows how to draw the line and adjust different operational needs for different communities.

The healthcare system in Fiji was underserved once Aspen made its presence. The company’s promises and claims went unfulfilled. It was also clear that business overshadowed community needs.

The time and the money put into projects taken on by the company did not reflect the efforts for Fiji. Failure was inevitable although the company had political influence. With such a diverse range of operational scope, you might assume the reliability of the company to be sound but unfortunately, that’s not the case.

Aspen Medical: Who They Are and Why You’ve Been Hearing Their Name

Whether through emergency care, healthcare options within the prison system, or other areas of the industry, this company showed no standing that would back any claim that they were the appropriate choice for the contracts that they received.

In truth, Aspen Medical was ill-prepared and under allegations that should not get overlooked. They also present with a high risk of corruption based on already open cases against them.

Now, here’s the real issue and the main conversation that needs to be had: whether privatisation of healthcare is even appropriate in Fiji at all.

When you privatise medical services, you have a higher risk of a reduction in quality. Response times for care will also experience a decrease.

Different societies are moving closer to value-based care models. With that, privatizing medical services puts more reliability on a for-profit care service.

This is going in the opposite direction of what most healthcare systems are trying to reach. Citizens could expect spikes in healthcare prices as well.

The Greatest Downfall of This Approach

The greatest downfall of privatisation is the overall cost. The current population of Fiji as of September 2022 is 910,847. The amount of people isn’t the reason that this decision may not be appropriate.

Think of the rate of poverty and poverty-driving factors. Also think about overall healthcare access.

At least 24.1% of the population has been living below the poverty line. There are currently 25 active hospitals in Fiji.

This doesn’t open access to care when they start to become privatised. The economy is still progressive and developing. Whilst this is true, healthcare privatisation throughout the area would do more harm than good.

Aspen Medical’s Part in This 

Back in 2019, Aspen Medical was able to secure a contract with Fiji’s government. This contract was to privatise healthcare in an Asian hospital system starting with, the Lautoka Hospital. The contract also covered operations to follow within the Ba Hospital.

Here’s where the problem comes in. The company’s operations would pose restrictions on critical care delivery. They also left healthcare workers feeling unsettled.

The controversy associated with the company’s presence, in general, was also a problem. Even with internal concerns and government attention, Aspen Medical is still active in operating at Lautoka Hospital. They have been set to have started providing cardiac surgery by August 2022.

We should point out that this service was quite delayed. It only came after enough backlash went public.

The issue is that Aspen Medical made promises that weren’t kept. This was until The National Federation Party started raising concerns.

This form of surgery was in response to the heat felt by Aspen although their main defense became based on the supply chain issues caused by COVID-19. Whilst COVID was a significant factor in the operations of many businesses across the Pacific, issues with the company started beforehand. Their contract covers 23 years’ worth of funding.

The contract is for assistance with hospital operations. The concern of The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAT) was whether Aspen’s involvement was even necessary.

What the Department of Foreign Affairs Has to Say About It

The question is, is the public healthcare system in Fiji at risk? With the Department of Health alone, Aspen Medical raked in over $500 million in secured contracts. Across the board, skepticism seems to be a usual trend for Aspen.

Often, people wonder where and how the company operates. More often, they wonder with whom the company operates. The issue that DFAS may have is that Aspen has limited experience with certain contracts.

Even still, the company admits that they have still been gaining experience and comfort with the variety of projects they take. Whilst they may have had success taking over trauma and birthing centers in Mosul given their collaboration with the World Health Organization, they have experienced failures as well. For some, it could seem that Aspen works to gain experience as they go.

This is often the case for many companies. However, it’s still the responsibility of the company to know its limits. This means avoiding or turning down a contract that they are not equipped or generally capable of handling.

We know that Canada and Texas were complete failures for Aspen. The United States was also difficult for Aspen to navigate.

This was due to the variety of components that make up the U.S. healthcare system. The company’s lack of experience working with this type of system was their main hurdle.

Asian Hospital Failures: Then They Moved Into Fiji…

Then, the company moved to Fiji to operate hospitals in the area. Aspen Medical had big ambitions of improving the health of the citizens of Fiji but they also saw the opportunity to scale on their efforts. It looks as though they may have bitten off more than they could chew.

The culprit of this may have been planning too far into the future before knowing if they could handle the baseline of the 23-year deal given to them. The company has not been on track. Some promises are only honored after public concern arises.

The main concern here is that Aspen Medical’s tasked with managing all operations of Fiji’s health and hospital services. If Aspen Medical isn’t delivering on its promises until they’re presented with public pressure, how will the healthcare system in Fiji be positively benefited?

Health Ministry and Lobbying: How Aspen Medical Secured Contracts They Weren’t Equipped to Handle

To start, the co-founder of Aspen Medical admits that the company had an “in” with high-ranking government involvement. Their ticket into these ranks was through a strategically placed board member. This member was former liberal cabinet member Michael Wooldridge.

Let’s also mention that Dr. Wooldridge had no comment during the Four Corners’ expose of Aspen and its operations. He is, however, still a director and registered lobbyist for the company. His time on the board ended in 2019.

Wooldridge made the introductions that sparked the company’s ‘paid access’ to the power of politicians. That access bought them a ticket to a dinner with the Health Minister, and this is where more of the issues began.

The power of a recommendation can go a long way, especially in the medical industry. Health Minister Greg Hunt gave Aspen Medical an impressive recommendation. This was a way to help a healthcare company that was very well connected to the political system. 

Understanding It All

In more specific terms, this health minister claimed that Aspen Medical is a trusted supplier of healthcare services used by the government in Australia. This letter was a clear intention to make the company seem a certain way.

It was also not addressed to any specific party and it was never dated when it was written. This leaves the company’s intentions for the letter open for interpretation.

The letter was signed in February 2020. It was an effort to have Aspen Medical displayed as a globally recognized and featured company that is not only trustworthy but could provide high-quality services. Where the problem comes in is the way the minister went about curating and handing off this letter.

Even Stephen Duckett, previous health department secretary, expressed his concerns and mentioned that he has never experienced or seen such a letter before. This immediately raised concerns.

With a public figure who’s involved in public services, this letter which could assist this company in winning PPE contract negotiations was left open-ended. This could be seen as very unusual and even dangerous in a way. 

The Issue This Poses

What something like this does is open the door for an ill-equipped company to take on contracts that directly affect public health systems and healthcare quality. What’s more, is that we could even take this letter as a far jump from the truth considering that Aspen Medical has no previous experience to exemplify being able to handle any type of large-scale procurement. 

Since they were awarded PPE contracts that were worth more than $1 billion and the way they handled the contract negatively affected the potential health delivery in areas of Oceania, could we also look at the letter as harmful, dangerous to the public, or as assistance in the negligence of quality hospital services?

Aspen Medical Capitalised off COVID-19: The Controversy

The concern is that no experience, boasting on paper whether truthful or not, or a prior industry presence is enough to get you control over a country’s healthcare delivery system. That’s the case with Aspen. They received over $1 billion in PPE contracts that were influenced.

This is even though the influential effort was inappropriate. Usually, but not always, companies have to compete in a public tender.

This is most times a requirement per the guidelines for government procurement. This is just a public solicitation that allows a company to make competitive bids.

Those bids are for supply contracts. In Aspen’s case, they weren’t required to do this.

This was mainly to help speed along the supply of PPE for Australia. This could have been a mistake as it jeopardized quality over the need for urgency.

The Real Reason Aspen Medical is Failing

An Asian hospital system is affected by the swift movements of a company that has claimed it can enhance healthcare. Money laundering and corruption allegations are just the start of the issues Aspen Medical poses. When a for-profit company modifies healthcare, it has to be done in a way to benefit the citizens of the area and not the financial gain of the project itself.

Aspen Medical has not been able to define this line and has failed Fiji. Read more about our message to turn our healthcare service options back around.

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