|An aerial photo of the Greenland International Medical Center on Jeju Island / Courtesy of the Greenland International Medical Center|
By Kim Hyun-bin
The nation's first for-profit hospital is on the verge of shutting down even before its grand opening, as it has no doctors to provide medical services amid a controversy over the scope of its service recipients.
Amid the controversy, the Jeju Special Self-Governing Provincial government may face tens of billions of won in damages from the hospital's investor.
On Dec. 5, the Jeju Special Self-Governing Provincial Government conditionally approved an operating license for the Greenland International Medical Center, under the condition it only cater for foreign patients.
Under the country's Medical Services Law, the hospital is obliged to open before March 4, 90 days after gaining approval from the local government. If the hospital fails to start providing medical services by that date, its license can be revoked after a public hearing.
Initially, the hospital hired 134 staff including nine doctors, 28 nurses, 10 nursing assistants and 18 international coordinators as of August 2017, when it first applied for the license approval.
However, the approval was delayed for more than a year and all nine doctors in the fields of plastic surgery, dermatology, internal medicine and family medicine resigned. With other staffers also leaving, only 70 remain.
But the hospital has not been recruiting new staff, officials from the local government said. If the center fails to hire doctors and submit their licenses by the end of February, it will become nearly impossible to open the medical center by the March deadline.
It is said the inaction comes from discontent from the medical center's Chinese investor, the Shanghai-based Greenland Group, over the local government's ban on treating Korean patients.
"We will look into all legal procedures regarding the administrative measures," the Greenland International Medical Center said in a statement in December immediately after the Jeju government gave its conditional approval.
The Korean Medical Association also said earlier that there is no law that justifies the ban on Korean patients. If the hospital files a lawsuit and the court rules the ban violates the Medical Services Law, the ban would be lifted, it said.
But the local government said it received an authoritative interpretation from the Ministry of Health and Welfare that it is possible to ban services for Korean patients if such a condition is stated in the license approval.
Experts say there is a high possibility the Chinese investor may file a compensation suit for around 80 billion won ($72 million) against the provincial government for not allowing the hospital to provide services for Koreans.
Local government officials said they have not received any documents or official notification from the Greenland Group about a lawsuit.
In the meantime, the Korean Health and Medical Workers' Union held a rally near Cheong Wa Dae, Monday, calling on the government to revoke the approval of the hospital. It has claimed the for-profit hospital will lead to polarization of medical services and a breakdown in the nation's public healthcare system.
"The Moon Jae-in administration needs to take responsibility and halt the opening of the for-profit hospital," the union said. "The approval affects not only Jeju but will harm the future of public health rights in the country."