Understanding the impact of Covid-19 on Penang medical tourism


CHIEF Minister Chow Kon Yeow visited Penang Adventist Hospital (PAH) today to show his support to the healthcare frontliners in private healthcare institutions and to understand the situation in private hospitals in the state.

He was warmly received by PAH chief executive officer Ronald Koh Wah Heng, chief operating officer Dr Thomas Tean Wing Nyin and some staff members.

The healthcare industry is not spared from the impact of Covid-19 as many hospitals have reported a drastic drop in occupancy because foreign tourists are not able to seek treatment here.

Joining Chow in his visit were state Tourism Development, Arts, Culture and Heritage Committee chairman Yeoh Soon Hin, state Agriculture and Agro-based Industry, Rural Development and Health Committee chairman Dr Norlela Ariffin, Bukit Bendera MP Wong Hon Wai, Pulau Tikus assemblyman Chris Lee Chun Kit and Penang Centre of Medical Tourism executive director Dr Mary Ann Harris.

Chow (centre) posing for a photograph with (from left) Dr Mary Ann, Yeoh, Dr Tean, Koh, Wong and Lee during a visit to Penang Adventist Hospital.

Koh thanked Chow for taking time to visit the hospital during a briefing session after taking them on a tour of the hospital.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has a huge impact on us. Our revenue dropped by 66% in April and 55% in May,” Koh said during the briefing.

“The Indonesian patients are not able to come, and our local people are shunning away from hospitals. This has a very big impact on the operation of the hospital, so we can tell you that in the months of April and May, the hospital had been running at losses.

“Our outpatient visits lost by 53%; where we used to see close to 900 patients, we would see 200 over patients during MCO (movement control order). A two-third drop in our patient load. But we’re now recovering.

“This pandemic has not only caused devastation to the other industries but more so to the healthcare industry.

“However, we’re protecting the jobs of our staff; things like letting go of our staff are not happening.”

A staff member of Penang Adventist Hospital (fifth from right) briefing Chow and Dr Norlela on a Covid-19 test kiosk during their visit to the hospital.

As a not for profit hospital, Koh said he has appealed to the Penang Island City Council (MBPP) to exempt them from paying assessment.

“This is a tough pandemic. We’re a not for profit hospital; whatever we earn does not go to any shareholders. We reinvest in equipment and building, and in taking care of the payroll of our staff.

“Maybe the state could help us by not charging us the assessment.”

Koh also shared on how the hospital is coping with the challenges and the new normal, how it is taking care of their employees and how it is staying in touch with patients who are not able to come for treatment at the hospital.

When the lockdown began, Koh said PAH formed a taskforce on March 17 which met every morning at 8am to see how they could serve their patients and take care of their employees and doctors for their safety.

The management also decided to give every employee Influenza A injections this year but that was optional. Most important of all is that PAH makes sure frontliners, who are given two months supply of Vitamin C, have sufficient face masks and PPEs.

Koh said because of low occupancy, PAH converted its Medical 3 which has 21 beds to Isolation Ward which has only seven beds. They are for patients under investigation (PUI).

Medical 2 is closed and reversed for emergency high-risk labour and delivery cases while the high dependency unit (HDU) is closed and reserved for high-risk Covid-19 patients in need of intensive care.

“However, the hospital has not received nor treated any Covid-19 positive patients so far,” Koh said.

To support the nation’s fight against Covid-19, Koh said PAH loaned two units of ventilators to Penang Hospital but they have been returned as the hospital does not require them.

PAH had also donated PPEs to the Fire and Rescue Department in Perak Road.

Chow having his hands sanitised before entering the Penang Adventist Hospital.

Koh said PAH also collaborated with 11 assemblymen to reach out to 1,072 families and three NGOs during this trying moment.

A total of 3,208 boxes of wholesome packed food, 971 loaves of Adventist wholemeal bread and 500 Care Packs were distributed to the low-income families within their constituencies.

Also, 500 freshly baked pastry products were distributed to Penang Hospital to show appreciation towards medical frontliners who were working tirelessly to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

On top of this, through its Recycling Fund, Koh said PAH has donated RM5,000 to help people who needed it most during the pandemic.

One needy patient also underwent successful cataract surgeries last month. Through the help of Sungai Pinang assemblyman Lim Siew Khim, the patient was granted RM15,000 from PAH Welfare Fund to assist her in both stabilising her blood sugar and her cataract surgeries.

“Now, she is able to prepare meals for her family. That is her greatest joy,” Koh said.

Koh said PAH has resorted to teleconsultation since May 11 to assist patients who are not able to come to the hospital because of the MCO.

The response, he said, has been encouraging with 75 teleconsultations done in May and 68 so far this month, with most of the patients coming from Indonesia. Each teleconsultation costs RM80 for 15 minutes.

The doctors can prescribe medications and the pharmacy will send them to their doorstep in Indonesia.

Chow said the government would take up PAH’s appeal with the local council although a rebate on assessment has been given to all premises in the state this year, resulting in a loss of RM50 million in revenue.

“One pertinent point raised today is that people assume that the medical sector is not impacted. But as you have shown, medical tourism is greatly impacted because of travel restrictions both here and overseas,” Chow said.

“In fact, this has also impacted the airlines. I visited the Penang airport, and AirAsia is ready to provide services to those in Indonesia to come back to Penang as soon as the green light is given by the Federal Government.

“They have also been badly hit and I believe that as we loosen the lockdown restriction, we will know that the lifting of the restriction is more for economic reason rather than health reason.

“However, economic reason is equally important during this period.

“While the governments have given three or four rounds of financial incentives, it is best that the economic and other sectors are opened so that the people can earn an income instead of having to rely on handouts. And there is a limit for the government to do.”

Chow also thanked PAH for playing an active role during the pandemic by reaching out to the needy and community.

Story by K.H. Ong
Pix by Alvie Cheng
Video by Ahmad Adil Muhammad