Aspen Medical faces criticism for avoidable hospital failures during Fiji’s struggle with COVID. Fiji’s test positivity threshold was over 26% in the summer of 2021. The WHO’s threshold is only 5%.
Aspen Medical signed government contracts to modernize two Fiji hospitals in November 2018. When COVID hit, both hospitals were completely unprepared and one was even temporarily shut down due to a lack of resources.
How bad were the Aspen Medical failures? Was the Fiji hospital mismanagement an isolated incident due to unforeseen factors in the pandemic?
Aspen Medical actually has an ongoing history of corruption, fraud, and failure. This article goes over all the key information you need to know.
1. Aspen Medical PTY: Brief Overview
Aspen Medical is a private healthcare company based out of Canberra, Australia. Glenn Keys and Andrew Walker founded it in 2003, according to the official company page.
Aspen Medical has a working relationship with the Australian government. They’ve also worked with various overseas contractors, including Britain, Nigeria, and Sri Lanka.
2. Aspen Exposed: Government Connections
Aspen Medical has secured highly-paid service contracts around the world. These contracts habitually don’t include any legal tender. This is admittedly due to its high government connections.
Michael Wooldridge is a former Liberal health minister. He served on Aspen Medical’s board of directors and is currently a registered lobbyist for the company, according to ABC News.
Wooldridge worked for Aspen Medical even while banned as a director of other companies. The Federal Court had found him guilty of fiduciary duty breaches in 2014.
Andrew Walker admitted Wooldridge gave him paid access to then-Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt in 2019. Despite Aspen Medical’s financial woes, Hunt wrote them an adulatory letter of recommendation in 2020. The letter was undated.
Former Health Department secretary Stephen Duckett called this letter unusual and dangerous during an interview. Aspen was later awarded over $1 billion in PPE contracts, despite having no experience in large-scale PPE procurement.
Aspen’s contract was also worth $500 million more than any other experienced supplier’s contract. These contracts helped Aspen go from $7 million in loss from 2018 to 2019 to over $420 million in net profit from 2020 to 2021, according to ABC News.
3. Aspen Medical and Corruption Accusations
In 2014, co-founder Andrew Walker was accused of $15 million worth of fraud. According to the allegations, he defrauded creditors by using a tax haven to divert lucrative company shares.
In March 2022, Aspen Medical gained a secret contract with the Queensland government. This contract was also a no-tender.
Annastacia Palaszczuk, Queensland premier, defensively claimed they were the only company that could fulfil the contract requirements. Other private medical companies based in Queensland disputed this. They noted they were not even consulted about the contract beforehand.
In May 2022, Aspen Medical was accused of corruption and money laundering in Sri Lanka’s Hambantota hospital project. Their middleman was Nimal Perera, who has ties to the politically connected Rajapaksa family. This family has been accused of plunging Sri Lanka into financial ruin and corruption.
4. Aspen Medical Failures: History of Complaints
Aspen Medical had a long list of medical failures before the Fiji hospital incidents. They continue to gain lucrative contracts through their government contacts, however.
Four Corners Report: Department of Defence
The Department of Defence had previously awarded Aspen Medical $170 million a year. This contract was to provide healthcare services for their military bases. The contract also operated under Medibank Health Services.
Four Corners found Defence accused Aspen Medical of consistent medical failures:
- Short-staffed clinics
- Medication errors
- Vaccine errors
- Improper dental work
Aspen Medical rebated $900,000 in 2014 to settle these and other complaints. Medibank declined to renew Aspen’s contract after 2016.
Defence also noted Aspen Medical staff were not properly checking their emergency resuscitation kits. The same complaint would be made again by an Australian prison in 2017.
Four Corners Report: Melaleuca Prison
Melaleuca Prison is a private all-women prison in Perth, Australia. Aspen Medical manages its healthcare services.
Cally Graham, a prisoner, died in February 2017 shortly after experiencing cardiac arrest in her cell. The resuscitation kit used in the initial emergency had an empty oxygen tank. This was a severe breach of proper emergency equipment protocol.
Aspen Medical declined to note the empty tank on their incident report. An internal report made before her death, however, noted there were high risks due to the prison’s medical care mismanagement. This included severe understaffing.
Aged Care During the COVID Pandemic
Aspen Medical was hired by the Australian government to provide emergency responses for aged care. This contract was over $30 million, according to AusTender data.
A 2020 inquest by the Department of Health found the emergency response during COVID suffered from systematic inadequacies. This included the government’s preparedness and response.
Aspen Medical failed to provide the staff requested in a timely manner. They also provided inexperienced and low-paid staff.
This staff included recent college graduates, despite the high level of training and skill needed to follow COVID care and PPE protocols. One doctor noted they would have been unable to meet staffing requirements even without COVID.
Two of Aspen Medical’s staff were also transferred from the infected Ruby Princess cruise ship to Newmarch House, a nursing home, with only two days in between their shifts. Newmarch House later cited an Aspen worker for PPE protocol breaches.
Aged care staffing continues to be an issue in Australia. Workers have engaged in strikes over low pay and substandard working conditions. There have been over 1,400 deaths in aged care facilities so far this year, according to the Guardian.
Fiji’s Hospital Mismanagement
Aspen Medical was awarded lucrative government contracts to manage two large hospitals in Fiji: the Ba and Lautoka. The IFC’s 2019 report referred to this agreement as Fiji’s first Public-Private Partnership (PPP).
Australia’s financial backing for new Fiji’s PPP came to over $1.3 billion total, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. DFAT also claims the money went to the IFC and they had no direct involvement with Aspen Medical.
Aspen Medical’s healthcare services in Fiji were experiencing delays even before COVID. The company promised that both hospitals would be fully operational by June 2021.
These claims failed to materialize. Aspen Medical was even investigated for medical equipment disappearances.
Lautoka hospital was briefly shut down due to COVID and lack of resources in May 2021. This meant Fiji was missing its second-largest hospital and over 400 medical staff during the height of the COVID pandemic in June.
The Construction, Energy and Timber Workers Union of Fiji (CETWUF) lodged claims against Aspen Medical on behalf of workers at Ba Hospital. Workers were given insufficient safety resources and were told to provide their own safety equipment, according to the claim.
Aspen Medical denied both claims based on their own confirmations. No independent review was cited.
5. The Four Corners Report and Aspen Medical’s Response
Much of the information Aspen Medical comes from a comprehensive investigative report made by Four Corners, a television program run by ABC TV. Previous Four Corners investigations include:
- Police and premier corruption
- Fossil fuel industry influence on climate policy
- Church of Scientology abuses
- Animal cruelty in the cattle industry
- Malaysian government corruption
- Australian military war crimes
ABC News is rated for a slight left-centre bias and high for factual reporting by Media Bias Fact Check. They currently have not failed a fact check and are part of the International Fact-Checking Network.
Aspen Medical disputes and denies the report’s criticisms. Aspen Medical’s official response to the Four Corners investigation was mostly fluff. It included unsubstantiated claims, political endorsements, and awards as their defence.
For example, they stated, “Aspen Medical secured unprecedented volumes of essential PPE for frontline line workers….” No actual numbers or supporting evidence were given for this claim.
6. Aspen Medical’s Biased Wikipedia Page
The company’s wiki page is marked for bias. The disclaimer message notes, “This article contains content that is written like an advertisement.” This disclaimer was added in March 2015.
Very little of Aspen Medical’s controversial complaint and corruption history is noted. The page contains a much more extensive list of their awards.
A section about the Four Corners investigation was briefly addressed, but contained more of Aspen’s official response. This section ends with “As yet, none of the allegations presented on ABC’s Four Corners episode have been proven,” with no citations.
There is currently no mention of Aspen Medical or Cally Graham on Melaleuca prison’s Wikipedia page.
6. From Bad to Worse: The Reality of Aspen Medical Failures
Aspen Medical failures are not isolated or indirect incidents. They can be directly attributed to consistent mismanagement that results in:
- Increased health risks
- Increased safety risks
- Higher disease infection rates
- Ineffective medical responses
- Understaffed and under-resourced facilities
- Misery and sickness for their staff and patients
Aspen Medical has repeatedly avoided responsibility for its medical failures. They know that political relationships count for more than service performance.
Keeping Track and Holding Aspen Medical Accountable
Aspen Medical should not be awarded any more public service contracts. The company has established its corruption and deliberate incompetency. They pose a significant public health risk through their mismanagement.
For more information about Aspen Medical failures, check out additional articles on our site. If you have information about Aspen Medical to report, contact us at Info@AspenFailedFiji.org. Together, we can hold Aspen Medical accountable for its misconduct.