A unique health care facility is coming to Jeju. One of the six core projects of the Jeju Free International Development Center (JDC), development of the Healthcare Town, is well underway.
This medical complex, to be located in the Dongheung region of Seogwipo City, is slated for three primary components: a health promotion and wellness division now scheduled to open in 2012, medical and long-term care facilities (Phase II), and ultimately, a Phase III research and development center.
The motivation behind this development, as with all JDC projects under the guidance of Jeju Provincial Government, is economic.
Medical tourism is a global trend and a strong economic force. The Korean national government has declared this one of 17 growth industries throughout Korea, with several such facilities now in development around the country. The Healthcare Town project, however, remains unique.
Covering 1.5 million square meters, the complex will include residential facilities, rehabilitative and alternative medical centers, a water park, general and specialty hospitals, long-term care facilities, a “silver town” for seniors, and a medical research facility focused on such timely issues as anti-aging therapies.
The team at JDC is entertaining other ideas like a cosmetic surgery theme park and exclusive, member-only hospitals.
The cost, originally estimated at 785 billion won, is now expected to increase considerably. To supplement the original government funding, the team at JDC is seeking commercial investors both domestic and international. Korean law prohibits domestic hospitals and other medical facilities from operating as businesses for profit. Jeju Provincial Government, while enjoying a fair measure of political and legal autonomy, has had to petition the central government for an exception in this case. The team at JDC hopes that such legislation will be passed this year.
“Foreign profit-making hospitals and medical facilities already have the right to operate in Jeju,” said Nari Hyun, senior manager of the team. “But potential investors don’t want to operate alone; they want local partnerships, so we hope to obtain the same right for Korean entities.”
At present, the team is working closely with KPMG, a globally renowned consulting firm, in order to fully formulate the business model for this project.
“The land acquisition was our most difficult task thus far,” shared Hyun, “as we had to deal with multiple owners and many complications. But now we own the parcel completely.”
She went on to say that the complex would be built on “environmentally sound, or ‘green,’ principles. It’s required these days.”
Seoul National University Hospital is the primary medical partner of the team at JDC and would-be provider of services for the Healthcare Town.
“They are the best in Korea,” said Hyun. “We need their name, their doctors.”
One of the unspoken goals of this project, in addition to economic development and the provincial government’s intention for Jeju to become an international city, is to improve perceptions of the sophistication of Jeju’s medical industry.
JDC and the Jeju Provincial Government have repeatedly stated that their goal is to develop Jeju in such a way that “people [the implication being, peninsular Koreans and foreigners] would want to live here.”
This, plus the money being spent on the development of the project, has proved to be a source of contention among local medical providers and residents in general, according to sources wishing to remain anonymous.
The target population for the services of Healthcare Town is primarily tourists from northeast Asia. A secondary target, according to Hyun, is the Korean diaspora “who might want Korean-style medical care.” Peninsular Koreans are a third market. They may wish to combine an island vacation with spa-like therapies or medical treatment and recuperation.
Hyun attempted to assure local residents that the medical complex will not be for tourists alone, nor will it focus solely on packages including residency. “These services will be for everyone,” she emphasized, indicating once more that it would be an improvement upon current medical care.
In that light, this project could potentially benefit Jeju both economically and medically. However, the controversy among locals as to its expense and the subtle message it sends about local medical services, providers, and the current quality of life on Jeju, cannot be denied.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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