HBI Deals+Insights / News

How to run a hospital in a warzone

For-profit hospital groups do not always enjoy the best reputation, especially in countries where an NHS system is revered and protected. Profit, not patient focused, is the accusation. But as recent events have shown, they readily put profit aside for the greater good. Just look at Ukrainian hospital group Dobrobut, and what it has been doing on the frontlines.

“We decided that at times like these we cannot be thinking about money. So for the first five months until Russian forces were forced out, we decided would treat everyone who needed care – those who could pay and those who couldn’t,” Walter Shekman, the group’s CEO told HBI last week.

Ukraine is going to need a lot of investment when the dust of war settles but you don’t need to be a financial expert to know that investing in a place living under the threat of war is a risk. 

Yet Dobrobut has worked to adapt to the daily life of air sirens, plotted routes to the nearest bomb shelters. It has long since introduced processes and procedures for evacuations and due to blackouts in 2023, introduced backup systems for electricity, water, and heating to ensure its hospitals can continue operations. It is also extending rehabilitation services to accommodate frontline war injuries, something it says it treats its fair share of.

“We hope that the armed forces with the help of Western allies, Great Britain, the EU, and the US will make sure that we don’t have to use these contingency plans,” Shekman said.

Another way providers have had to step up is by sacrificing staff for frontline service; this has been done without complaint, but naturally this affects operations. Shekman explained: “We were able to reserve some of the employees who continue working but others might get called up at any point so we have to plan for operations being affected to some degree. Before the war, we had 22 ambulances; 11 of them currently are somewhere on the frontline because we gave them to the military, so now we have to do with less equipment.”

International aid support has been enthusiastic, but foreign investors are reluctant. Shekman tells HBI  that with more support and help flowing through the private sector to local partners, base salaries for local people can be paid for and ultimately this will have a multiplier effect to keep the economy turning.

Ukraine has suffered enough and when the war ends – and it will end – there will be huge opportunities not just to invest in an area with real prospects of financial returns but to do some real good. Whether investors are as broad minded and adaptable as operators on the ground have had to be and will be prepared to take the risk remains to be seen.

We would welcome your thoughts on this story. Email your views to Michaila Byrne or call 0207 183 3779.