International patients who pay cash may be target market for Metropolitan Hospital buyer

Cash-paying medical tourists from Latin America and elsewhere are a small but lucrative segment of South Florida’s healthcare industry, bringing in millions of dollars each year for local hospitals.

Such wealthy foreign patients likely are a target market for the new owners of Metropolitan Hospital of Miami, who may be planning a specialized surgical center that caters to international customers, according to people familiar with the sale and the licensing application on file with the state.

The hospital, which will be renamed Miami International Medical Center, is being sold to a subsidiary of Nueterra Healthcare, a Kansas-based consulting and management firm.

Nueterra issued a statement Friday that the company is evaluating Metropolitan Hospital and “the surrounding community and other factors in order to determine needs and the best possible next steps.’’

The new hospital, read the statement, “draws on the power of Nueterra’s extensive experience and global network to connect providers, coordinate services and create an exceptional patient experience that includes expanded consumer access.’’

Amy Leiker, a Nueterra spokeswoman, declined to make any additional statements regarding the hospital’s change of ownership or future plans.

But Metropolitan Hospital of Miami released its own statement Friday, saying that Nueterra has a “multifaceted remodel plan” and intends to renovate the nearly 50-year-old hospital to create “an upscale environment” similar to a “boutique hotel.’’

“Miami International plans to work with the medical staff to provide more services, more technology, better accessibility and more convenient, streamlined processes,’’ read the statement issued by Luis Allende, corporate director of communications for Metropolitan Hospital.

Metropolitan Hospital’s statement went further to say that the new owners plan to expand the list of specialties and add new services, though those were not detailed.

But it’s not clear from Nueterra’s licensing application, on file with the state’s Agency for Health Care Administration, that the new owners intend to dedicate the facility to its longtime clientele.

The hospital, located near Miami International Airport, was founded in 1963 by Cuban immigrants to serve their community.

Its patients are predominantly Hispanic, and many are seniors on Medicare and Medicaid, the federal and state health insurance programs for the elderly, poor and disabled, according to state records.

In its licensing application, which is pending approval from AHCA, Nueterra reports that the facility will remain an acute-care hospital.

But it will not have an emergency department. Nueterra also does not intend to participate in Medicare and Medicaid, the two largest public payers in the U.S. healthcare system.

That would leave privately insured and self-pay patients, including international medical tourists, an area of expertise for Nueterra, whose Latin America and Caribbean region operations are headquartered in Miami.

Wealthy foreign patients are a natural for Miami, said Sal Barbera, a former hospital executive who now teaches healthcare management at Florida International University.

“There’s a great international following that comes here to South Florida,’’ Barbera said.

Without an emergency room that by law must admit every critical patient and treat them until stabilized — and without the government regulations that hospitals accept when participating in Medicaid and Medicare — the Miami International Medical Center also will not have to deal with South Florida’s significant uninsured population.

“No emergency room means you don’t have to worry about the uninsured,’’ Barbera said. “All admissions will be pre-admitted, probably with a down payment.’’

Formerly called Pan American Hospital, Metropolitan changed ownership and names in 2007, when a Puerto Rican hospital chain — Sistema de Salud Metropolitano — bought the facility out of bankruptcy court for $34 million.

Nueterra declined to disclose the new sale price.

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