Ghada Sawalmah of Gargash Hospital
Ghada Sawalmah of Gargash Hospital Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Planning a hospital's grand opening for March of 2020 - now, as far as initiations go, nothing can get tougher than that. Because everyone knows what’s been going around since March of last here, putting the healthcare services in the country - and everywhere else - to a once-in-a-lifetime test of mettle.

It becomes even more so when it’s the company’s first healthcare venture in Dubai and when that facility is located in one of the most prominent spots in the city. But Ghada Sawalmah, CEO of Gargash Hospital in Jumeirah, has learnt to take all of this in her stride.

“We are still consolidating our efforts, the specialities and doctors on our rolls,” said Ghada. “Some departments are expanding slightly. But there’s one thing I can say for sure - we will not be opening four or five satellite units as many healthcare businesses tend to do within the first five years of launch. And not with businesses still affected the way they were in 2020.

“No hospital, no business, and not even the corner supermarket will be able to ignore COVID-19 impact until another two years have passed. Now, if anyone shows they haven’t been affected, they must have some interesting accountants…”

Break the mould
According to Ghada Sawalmah, the UAE's healthcare business did operate along the lines of a boys' club. But those standard practices are getting ditched.

"But my mother helped change a lot of perceptions and, now, I am holding my own." she said. "What more, they are noticing what we are trying to achieve by doing things differently..."

Knows her mind

The 50-bed Gargash Hospital represents one of the rare instances of a brand new entrant into Dubai’s healthcare sector in recent years. Natal and fertility represent its core specialities, but the facility does offer other lines as well.

There have been hospitals and clinics opening, but these have been from well-established operators expanding rather than from a new player. (The Saudi German Hospital was another to launch a Dubai presence.)

In terms of identity, the name ‘Gargash’ resonates far and wide. There is, obviously, the association with being one of the most successful Mercedes-Benz dealerships in the world. There was, of course, the stature that Dr. Anwar Gargash brought to bear in his stint as the UAE’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs.

“I still have some of the patients turning up at the hospital wanting to know whether they can get a discount on a G-Class SUV,” said Ghada. “I don’t mind that at all.

“But we are not Gargash Enterprises - the Gargash Hospital is owned by my mother, Dr. Husnia Gargash, who was the first Emirati gynaecologist. She set up a speciality clinic in Sharjah in 2007, and since 2014, we had been thinking of an opening in Dubai.

“We decided on a Dubai healthcare facility because we saw there were many seeking specialised services who were fed up with being taken advantage of, or felt they were not necessarily being given the right information.

“Yes, we serve more of a high-end customer, the majority being Emiratis. But there are more Western expats coming in, as well as Arab expats.

“And that’s because of the way our facility is structured. There’s none of that heavy feel and the smell of antiseptic that you so often get in hospitals and clinics. Our aesthetic is very much in keeping with the location we are in.”

Stock - Gargash Hospital
Make it look different... Healthcare facilities need't have that heavy feel and the smell of antiseptics. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

A supreme location

She sure is right about that. The Gargash Hospital occupies a prime location in Jumeirah, Dubai’s original luxury enclave. But the choice of location was more happenstance than planning, according to Ghada.

“A plan to pick up land in Dubai has been there since 2014. We knew right out that the implementation and location had to be right. This particular spot was originally residential land, and it’s status was changed only after the area came under Meraas (the Dubai Government owned master-developer). There were a lot of intricacies involved.

“We acquired the land in 2017, had a soft opening in 2019, and then were supposed to have our grand launch in March 2020…”

Stock - Gargash Hospital
Prime spot... A choice location in Dubai's upscale Jumeirah neighbourhood comes with advantages. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

‘On our terms’

It’s said in the local healthcare business that having the right sort of alliances with medical insurers can make or break the chances of a hospital or clinic. That insurers carry an outsized say in dictating fortunes.

Ghada wants to rewrite some of those rules of engagement. “Insurance companies did have a lot of strength when it came to how someone can position their medical facility,” she said. “When we launched Gargash Hospital, insurance companies already knew about Dr. Husnia, her reputation, and about her non-incentivised performance throughout her medical career.

“That’s what helped us get the insurance tie-ups we wanted. We do still have one or two insurances that don’t offer cover - but that’s because we didn’t want to end up taking instructions. Healthcare services should be about the hospital and about its patients - and the insurance plays a supporting role and never the main role.

“It may not be how it’s done at other facilities - but we won’t let that happen here.”

Being the only hospital in the UAE that’s got fully-fledged IVF, a mother and child care, and all the supplementary care that go with it. That’s the perfect way for a family to be looked after by a family

- Ghada Sawalmah of Gargash Hospital

Not interested

Ghada Sawalmah of Gargash Hospital
"It's true, we do have people coming over to the Gargash Hospital and asking whether they can get a discount on a Merc..." Image Credit: Supplied

The CEO instantly dismisses any suggestion about striking likely alliances with other healthcare businesses. “Even before we opened, I had offers for stake sale or even a complete sale,” said Ghada. “We get more of that since we opened - I find it a beautiful compliment to be getting noticed. But we are not interested in selling, leasing or divesting a stake.

“We don’t have the pressure on our staff from Gargash Hospital becoming corporate-minded. We do not want to see the patient as an “asset” or a number. We are providing a medical service - and that’s something that continues forever.”

But given the heavy capital requirements, couldn’t an alliance with the right sort of partner be a huge support? “You seem more interested in us having a partnership than I do,” she said. “This is our country and we are not going anywhere. Everyone in this family shares the view that we are better on our own.

“The way I see it, this is a family taking care of your family.”

That’s as clear a message as any. That’s how Ghada Sawalmah prefers it...