Slow Start for $42M Vietnamese-Backed Hospital

Opened six months ago to give seriously ill patients an alternative to traveling abroad for treatment, the Vietnamese-backed Cho Ray Phnom Penh Hospital has gotten off to something of a slow start.

With 200 beds across two wings and four levels, the $42 million building in Meanchey district—a joint venture between Vietnamese investors and local petroleum and tourism tycoon Sok Kong—is an impressive sight.

According to hospital officials, 30,000 people have been treated there since January. And earlier this week, the admissions area was bustling as rows of patients waited to be admitted by nurses in bright pink uniforms.

But on the darkened upper floors, dozens of private rooms were empty as the center is still transferring many patients to its sister hospital in Ho Chi Minh City.

“We have not yet finished the organization,” hospital director Nguyen Hoang Nam explained through a translator.

“So sometimes we transfer patients to Cho Ray in Vietnam, because it has doctors who have worked for long time—they have a lot of experience—but before we transfer a patient with serious injuries we discuss whether or not to send them.”

Mr. Hoang Nam said it was not possible to estimate how many Cho Ray patients have been sent to Vietnam, because hospitals across Phnom Penh also used their transfer service. He also would not say whether the hospital had a plan to eventually stop sending patients abroad.

Sin Dara, the hospital’s human resources manager, said the number of cases being referred to Vietnam would soon decrease as only those requiring specialist treatment, such as people with lupus or severe head injuries, would be sent to Vietnam.

“During the last few months, we don’t start surgery, we just start this month, so we don’t need to transfer [surgical cases] to Vietnam now,” he said.

Mr. Dara added that the hospital was moving to a second phase of expansion, which will see a second building constructed nearby, with an additional 300 beds.

When Cho Ray opened early this year, Thea Kruy, a Ministry of Health secretary of state, said people should not expect the same quality of care there as in Vietnam.

“I wouldn’t dare say the treatment will be as highly effective as at the Cho Ray Hospital in Vietnam, because [Vietnamese doctors] have received education and experience in France and other developed countries,” Mr. Kruy said at the time.

But hospital officials insisted this week that the doctors at the Phnom Penh branch were equally capable.

“The Cambodian doctors here have worked for Cho Ray for many years, so we have them here now,” said Mr. Dara. “Also, we have the doctors from Vietnam, so the competency of the doctors here is the same.”

And it is clear Cho Ray’s reputation—helped by a personal endorsement by Prime Minister Hun Sen during a ribbon-cutting ceremony in January—attracts many of its patients.

Chon Hoeung, 29, who was seeking treatment for persistent headaches, said: “I came here because I saw my relatives were better after they were treated here.”

Another patient, 69-year-old Lek Hour, said it was her first time at the hospital.

“I decided to come to this hospital because I heard the one in Vietnam made Cambodians better,” she said.

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