Exit Vitals: Three Maltese Hospitals Have Officially Been Sold To US Health Giant Steward

Questions remain on how Vitals spent the €50 million it had received in public funds


Photo: Vitals Global Healthcare

US health giant Steward Health Care has officially taken over the management of the St Lukes, Karin Grech and Gozo hospitals, two months after the deal was first announced by Lovin Malta.  

In a press release issued this morning, Steward’s executive chairman Ralph de la Torre pledged to bring its "model of financially effective and high-quality healthcare" from the United States to Malta.

"We will invest in the medical facilities entrusted to us, upgrading them into state-of the-art hospitals, and will help ensure that the Maltese people live healthy, active lives," de la Torre said. 

Steward pledged this innovative healthcare will include cutting-edge technology platforms that help doctors predict diseases and illnesses before they spread, electronic medical records and electronic intensive care units. 

The press release also included tis quote from Prime Minister Joseph Muscat: “Steward Health Care shares our same vision for the future of healthcare in Malta. Our resolve to upgrade Malta and Gozo’s healthcare services to world-class levels has been given a further boost through this partnership. With its impressive track-record, Steward is the ideal partner to realise such a critical infrastructural upgrade of our hospitals while offering the best medical services to patients.”

The new directors of Vitals are Steward’s executive vice president Michael Callum and its president Armin Ernst - who was hired as Vitals’ CEO in 2016 but who resigned in October 2017 to take up his current position at Steward. Health minister Chris Fearne said it was Ernst who had suggested Steward buy out his former employer.   

The deal effectively means that the 30-year concession signed between the government and Vitals Global Healthcare has changed hands from VGH’s original investors to Steward Health Care. Ashok Rattehalli, one of the original VGH investors, will retain a 5% minority shareholding in the company. Rattehalli had twice filed an injunction against the concession sale over fears his rights weren’t being protected but withdrew them after reaching an agreement with the other investors. 

It is as yet unknown whether Steward intends to honour VGH’s third-party agreements, most notably with Technoline - which was given exclusivity over the procurement of VGH’s medical supplies. 

VGH had reportedly been forced to sell its concession after running into severe liquidity problems, having struggled to secure bank loans and having accumulated an estimated whopping €55 million in debt - which Steward will now absorb. 

In just over two years in Malta, the original owners of VGH received some €50 million from the government as part of the concession, which will see the concessionaire earn €2.1 billion from public funds over 30 years. The Opposition's good governance spokesperson and former leader Simon Busuttil demanded to know what became of that €50 million. 

Opposition leader Adrian Delia yesterday sued the government, arguing VGH’s failure to adhere to its contractual obligations means the three hospitals should be re-nationalised.

What do you make of this deal? Let us know in the comments section 

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Written By

Tim Diacono

Tim Diacono tends to clam up when asked to describe himself. You can contact him on [email protected]