ST. CROIX, U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS — A group of doctors, the Plessen Medical Group LLC, has started a venture that has given rise to an all-new product in St. Croix—medical tourism.
Since St. Croix is a U.S. territory, Plessen accepts both Medicare and Medicaid along with most major insurance plans. Being part of the English speaking U.S., St. Croix offers the best, safest, most practical and economical site for U.S. medical tourism. The availability of Medicare,and Medicaid alone is a major benefit that is virtually unique to Plessen as a medical tourism site.
Plessen Healthcare’s facility, encompassing the entire lower floor of the new Government Employees’ Retirement System building, is a state-of-the-art operation with a heavy focus on eye care. The offices include a receptionist, secretary, doctors’ offices and a conference room. On the east side of the building, however, a whole new world meets the eye. There’s a waiting area where patients sit before undergoing surgery, but one could almost feel the energy in the post-operation rooms, where lively nurses work with steady confidence that relays a relaxing aura to those waiting to be operated on.
Plessen Healthcare boasts 22 employees, including a team of dedicated physicians and nurse practitioners, offering a wide range of general services and internal medicine sub-specialties dedicated to chronic disease prevention.
The firm’s CEO, Jan B. Tawakol, M.D., is a well-known surgeon from Phoenix, Arizona. According to Dr. Tawakol, the idea for what is now Plessen Healthcare was conceived four years ago, out of a need to help the Juan F. Luis Hospital (JFL) of St. Croix, during a time when it faced many challenges.
“The hospital, at that time, had a lot of problems,” said Dr. Tawakol, “and a number of the physicians in the hospital came together with the idea of creating a platform outside of the hospital that could be utilized, on one side, by investors to invest money in the healthcare system, and by physicians to come and use it as a facility or a platform, and therefore by the patients, who would benefit from it directly by having some services available that the hospital doesn’t provide in an outpatient setting.”
Plessen Healthcare will be working hand-in-hand with JFL on the essential front of providing care when a patient is treated at the hospital and needs continuous care—making it “easier for the hospital to discharge patients, because there’s somebody else on the outside ready to take care of them,” said. Dr. Tawakol.
Yet, the consideration of JFL was only part of a multi-pronged venture, and Dr. Tawakol described medical tourism, as having the most potential for St. Croix. For residents of St. Croix, he said, Plessen Healthcare will be a major economic benefit, as the territory loses $100 million yearly from residents who leave to pursue medical services that wer not available in St Croix, prior to the establishment of Plessen Healthcare.
In addition, Plessen Healthcare will be a great medical tourism site for those coming from mainland U.S. especially for those with Medicare and Medicaid coverage.
Dr. Tawakol stated, “Our goal is to promote St. Croix as a medical tourism destination and collaborate with Department of Tourism, with the hotels and tourism infrastructure here to make this a more pleasant and affordable destination.”
Both local and foreign investors have stakes in Plessen Healthcare. The group has built a state-of-the-art facility that incorporates the most update-to-date features, and has been inspected by the Accreditation Association of Ambulatory Healthcare. AAAHC has already evaluated Plessen Healthcare on behalf of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, surveying the group on clinical operation as well as life safety—including a detailed inspection of the facility’s construction, which Dr. Tawakol revealed was built using the latest guidelines. After inspection reviews, results of which are expected anytime, CMS is expected to grant Plessen Healthcare CMS participation.
Inside the ambulatory surgical center, there are two operating rooms and another area that holds five post-operation patients. Plessen Healthcare performs roughly 30 surgeries weekly—and growing.
The facility is built and the need is great, but “St. Croix needs more physicians” if the idea of medical tourism is to be successful, Dr. Tawakol said. He said in order to attract physicians to the territory, these doctors must be given the ability to work with inpatients and outpatients, meaning, provision should be made that gives the physicians freedom to practice at the hospital and at private practices.
“I think this is a perfect combination where we’re able to be in collaboration with the hospital, where we can attract physicians that would provide services at the hospital—that’s where we crucially need them to provide inpatient services—and some work outside as well. And this is what would attract physicians here. Not only are they looking for a combination of the two—which would see these physicians becoming of great use inside the OR of the hospitals, in intensive care and where you need additional services,” Dr. Tawakol said, his calm demeanor not successful at masking the passion for what he sees as a great opportunity for the U.S. medical tourism.