“There’s no secret about it, the quality of care and the great patient experience,” said Dr. Arturo Dela Peña in explaining why Guamanians seek treatment at St. Luke’s Medical Center in the Philippines, “but it’s the standard we provide to all patients.”
Dela Peña is the medical director of the hospital located in Manila’s fashionable Bonifacio Global City. He said the hospital staff is very aware of the many patients from Guam. “We know that they might not be so familiar with the area…so when they come here, we try to make it as comfortable as possible. We value the business that we get from Guam.”
St. Luke’s is getting more patients now compared to five years ago, said Dela Peña. “I don’t know, but, well, we must be doing something right. There was a running joke that maybe the doctors are injecting some kind of virus in Guamanians, that it became infectious,” he said, laughing. “If the service they are getting here is not satisfactory, they won’t be coming back.”
Dela Peña added that “maintaining high quality care, and cutting down on unnecessary expenses” have helped them sustain their business. But the most important thing “is the outcome of the treatment that we give.”
For Dela Peña, the best marketing is the testimony of the patients themselves. Whenever he goes to Guam and mentions that he is from St. Luke’s he is impressed by the reception he gets. “They say thank you, and welcome. We get treated like VIPs.”
St. Luke’s opened in 2010 and close attention was paid to aesthetics. “Our rooms are way ahead in terms of ambience and comfort,” Dela Peña said. The facility was designed to make the hospital “less threatening” because many patients believed they tend to get sicker in stark, intimidating surroundings.
In recent years the hospital has been investing in new technologies “that will make outcomes better, at more affordable costs,” Dela Peña explained. “For example, we are looking at robotic technology.” He added that it is the fastest growing specialty in the Asia Pacific region, and St. Luke’s recently surpassed the 500 mark in robotic surgeries. “So we’ve learned a lot, and now we may be able to offer the service to more people because we can lower the cost.”
Dela Peña was a busy surgeon in 2012, when his best friend, newly appointed St. Luke’s president and CEO, Dr. Edgardo Cortez, asked him to help run the hospital. “He said he wanted someone he could trust; I couldn’t say no.” Dela Peña said their wives are also very close, and the couples go on vacation together for two weeks every year. His wife was against the job at first, but relented when he agreed not to take on any work that would keep him from being home for dinner. “Our kids are all grown; she has no one else to eat with anymore,” Dela Peña revealed, laughing.
His path to an eventual career in medicine was launched on his father’s small farm. “When I was ten years old, I was carrying copra (dried coconut) one day, and I slipped and fell face first into a pile of horse manure. My father was laughing at me. And I cried. He told me, ‘Why are you crying?’ I said, ‘I fell down and almost ate (horse manure) and you’re laughing?’”
Dela Peña said his father was not an educated man, that he was a simple farmer, but he had some wise words for his son. ‘Arturo, if you do not study well, you, your sons, your grandchildren, will be like me.’ That was a ‘light bulb’ moment for the embarrassed young boy, and from that day forward “my grades turned around,” Dela Peña recalled.
But medicine was not his first calling. “I was a chemist. I was drilling oil offshore in Palawan (a southwestern Philippine island nearby a disputed area with China).” His switch to a medical career was borne out of opportunity. “My mother has a brother, who is a doctor. They have a very small hospital, and one time I got invited to attend a family reunion.” His uncle had seven children, six girls and one boy, but there was no one who wanted a career as a doctor. “[My uncle] told me, ‘You know no one is going to inherit this hospital. Why don’t you take up medicine?’” So he did.
He is still very busy in his medical career, but as it slows down, Dela Peña finds himself drawn to images of his childhood roots. He is developing a small tract of rural land for farming, and built a simple nipa hut on the property. He will have to share it though. He has noticed his 90-year-old father is spending a lot of time there. “My mother passed away about a year ago. This farm is what makes him happy.”
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