Thu | Sep 20, 2018

Medical entrepreneur invests in hospital, hunts larger share of health market

Published:Friday | September 22, 2017 | 12:00 AMHuntley Medley
Dr Germaine Spencer speaks in an interview from his practice Baywest Medical Fairview, in Montego Bay.
Dr Germaine Spencer consults with nurse Jodia Blake during rounds at Baywest Medical Fairview in Montego Bay.

Dr Germaine Spencer, an obstetrician, gynaecologist and surgeon, is not satisfied with being just a medical practitioner, when there is money to be made from quality health facilities.

The medico with a taste for business specialises in female oncology, that is, cancer prevention, treatment and care for women; minimally invasive abdominal or laparoscopic surgery; and vaginoplasty or cosmetic vaginal surgery. He identifies the latter as a booming area of a generally profitable health business.

Spencer, 38, has outfitted and operates three private health centres in Montego Bay and is now investing in excess of US$2 million, or over $260 million in local currency, in a new private hospital set to open in the western city by next January. For the past year, he has also invested in a restaurant and sports bar in the western city.

Baywest Hospital takes up space formerly occupied by MoBay Hope at Half Moon Shopping Village in Rose Hall. Hospiten Group, the Spanish owners of MoBay Hope, rebranded the facility and relocated just across the road where it now operates as Hospiten Montego Bay. That 27-bed hospital, reported to have been built at a cost of $2.3 billion, was opened in October 2015.

Spencer is taking a slightly different market focus than rival Hospiten and is banking on the encouragement of corporate clients, including major hotels, large business process outsourcing firms, cruise lines and international insurance providers to drive business his way.

"The market is there for the taking," he told the Financial Gleaner.

The 10-bed Baywest Hospital will be equipped with an operating theatre, a maternity suite, clinics and a full range of imaging services, and will be serviced by a staff of nearly 30, including 20 doctors. The hospital joins three other Baywest health facilities all located in Montego Bay - at Baywest Shopping Centre; on Barnett Street; and a 24-hour operation at the Fairview commercial centre in the expanding Bogue suburbs.

These businesses grew out of one office in Baywest Centre, started in 2011, which itself has undergone major expansion and now occupies some three rented shops, one utilised as an operating theatre. Baywest Medical partners with ambulances service providers Life Call and EMed air ambulance.

The tenacious entrepreneur also operates E-Shore Medical, which provides medical services on location in the Montego Bay Free Zone for call centre workers.

Last year, spurred by the perceived need among young professionals for a safe space to relax downtown, Spencer decided to enter the food service business. He opened 876 Legends restaurant and sports bar at the fast-developing Fairview Town Centre on the Montego Bay outskirts.

The 876 investment, to date, is in excess of $30 million. Spencer said he is still learning the restaurant business and is yet to determine whether to maintain a long-term footprint in that industry.

The entrepreneur says his business expansion is being financed largely by bank loans with savings, reinvestment of earnings and support from one family member who assisted in purchasing some equipment in the early stages. He and wife, Kerene, who oversees the finances full-time, were coy about disclosing the total investments to date, which they admit is sizable.

All the businesses combined employ close to 50 people.

Self-sufficient centre

In his core area of competence, medicine, Spencer's central business idea is to create a "wide network of full-service, urgent-care medical facilities throughout western Jamaica", with these centres also providing referrals to the Baywest Hospital.

These centres are intended to be self-sufficient, providing services including general practitioner, physician, obstetrician/gynaecologist, internist, surgeon, dentist, laboratory, ultrasound, X-ray and other imaging services. His network of urgent-care health facilities is also expected to be supported by a services locator mobile app with the capacity to deliver medical advice from trained paramedics, security and roadside assistance. The GPS-enabled app has been in development for a few years but is expected to be launched soon, pending the expected signing of a major health insurance provider.

Spencer plans to grow his holdings nationally, eventually, but first wants to perfect his business model before stepping beyond western Jamaica.

For now, the evolution of his business is driven by "gut feeling" and his knowledge of the health-care environment.

Spencer says he is not worried about the competition from the various medical centres and doctors' offices dotting the landscape in Montego Bay. He cites the full-service nature of the Baywest medical centres, a down-to-earth service culture, and "less-than-market benchmark" fees as competitive advantages. The three locations together are said to see up to 180 patients on a good day.

As he puts it, the state of public health facilities and services, handicapped by the lack of resources stemming from the Government's no-user-fee policy, is providing a lucrative, growing market for medical entrepreneurship.

"There is 'x' number of patients any human being can see per day without getting flustered. The clinics are backed up. The surgery list is backing up," said Spencer. The 'no-user -fee' policy "created a lull for us initially, but business went back to what it was before," he said.

Spencer's first foray into business was in 2010 on his return to Jamaica from Trinidad and India, where he pursued advanced studies following his degree studies in medicine and surgery at the University of the West Indies, Mona.

Building from failure

He tasted failure when his initial medical centre business partnership established at Fairview in Montego Bay went sour after a year, while he worked full-time in the government health service for three years. But he decided to treat it as a positive development, an opportunity to do better on his next venture.

He has a protracted court battle that ended a year ago to thank for the recovery of some of his initial investment, which saved him from total loss on the venture.

The Jamaica College graduate credits his uncle, Dr Howard Spencer, a retired cardiothoracic surgeon, professor emeritus of cardiothoracic surgery at the University of the West Indies and registrar of the Medical Council of Jamaica and the Caribbean Association of Medical Councils, for having encouraged him into medicine and guiding him professionally.

But credit for his entrepreneurial side, he said, goes to his mother Yvette Griffiths.

Both his mother and father, Goldstone Spencer, have been involved in garment manufacturing.

"My mother is a strong woman," he said, recalling the challenging times when her business was seriously and adversely affected in the financial sector meltdown and Finsac bailouts of the 1990s and she struggled to keep the venture afloat, pay staff and put food on the family table.

Spencer notes that he tries to match his mother's tenacity in his own business pursuits.

"I love business. Medicine is my route to business," he said.