Privatize a hospital? Anyone wanting to do that needs not only a good concept, but also strong nerves. Resistance in the general population and among employees can be enormous.
This was the case in the German city of Krefeld when Fresenius Helios acquired the money-losing municipal hospital, Klinikum Krefeld. Initially, there were a lot of preconceptions and fear.
“We demonstrated against it because we wanted our hospital to remain municipal,” recalled Birgit Gillmann, head nurse in the Department of Radiology and Palliative Medicine at the hospital, which is now HELIOS Hospital Krefeld. “We thought they would cut jobs and fire us and we’d no longer be able to care for our patients; we thought it was only about profit. But, fortunately, it turned out to be exactly the opposite.”
HELIOS decided to tear down the old building. Putting up a new one took five years. More than €200 million was invested by HELIOS in the modernization. “We have a magnificent new building, working conditions are excellent and our patients and employees feel very well taken care of,” said Gillman with relief. The hospital now offers more jobs than it did when it was publicly owned. In those days it was close to insolvency: There was only enough money on hand to pay employees for another three months.
“Some people in this city used to carry notes saying, ‘In case of emergency, don’t take me to Klinikum Krefeld. Anywhere but there,’” said Reiner Micholka, Managing Director of HELIOS Hospital Krefeld, about the time before privatization. Since then the hospital’s reputation has improved enormously – also among its employees.
“Before, I didn’t know the managers personally,” said Gillmann about this welcome change. “They were all busy in their offices. I didn’t know how to approach them, and they never came to see us. They never visited the wards or came around to inspect anything. Now, that’s all changed. Suddenly the managers are there, and want to look around. I was quite surprised that they already knew our names. Not only that, but it’s more enjoyable to work for a company that isn’t running at a loss and that isn’t about to close down – a company that’s profitable.” Mayor Gregor Kathstede of Krefeld is also happy about the benefits of the privatization. “It was clear to me that I’d have to push through this idea in Krefeld,” he said. “It took a lot of energy and a little time – but it was the right decision.”