Sheik's gift furthers Hopkins partnership

Hospital tower to be named for UAE head

May 05, 2007|By M. William Salganik | M. William Salganik,Sun reporter

On one hand, there is the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, flush with oil money and eager to associate itself with the iconic brands of the world's culture, from the Louvre to Ferrari.

On the other hand, there is Johns Hopkins Medicine, seeking to expand its worldwide reach to fulfill its sense of mission, add to its luster and to generate revenue.

Their interests intersected this week - not for the first time, but in the biggest way yet - with the announcement that Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, ruler of Abu Dhabi and president of the United Arab Emirates, was making a "transformational" gift. The sum was not disclosed.

It will support heart research at Hopkins and an AIDS research program in Uganda. Mostly, the contribution will help finance a billion-dollar project now in its giant-hole-in the-ground stage. Two 12-story clinical towers will replace half of what is now Hopkins Hospital by 2010.

One tower, a 355-bed facility, will be named after Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the donor's late father, from whom he has said he learned "the need for patience and prudence in all things."

Sheikh Zayed founded the UAE by bringing together his emirate, Dubai and five smaller sheikdoms. He was president from 1971 until his death in 2004.

Over the past year, an Abu Dhabi doctor with connections to the royal family and a Hopkins doctor who has mentored him approached the royals with the idea of a major gift, according to Steven Rum, senior associate vice president for development for Johns Hopkins Medicine.

The chief fundraiser and his staff assembled a sort of portfolio of philanthropy. Inside was an artist's rendering of the new clinical tower labeled with Sheikh Zayed's name.

"Once they said, `We want to do this,'" Rum said, "this was turned around in two weeks. We got everybody on a plane."

That would be the Hopkins hierarchy: Dr. William R. Brody, university president; Dr. Edward D. Miller, dean of the medical school and CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine; Ronald R. Peterson, CEO of Johns Hopkins Hospital; and Dr. Michael J. Klag, dean of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

About 100 relatives and government ministers gathered Monday in "a huge room in the palace," seated in chairs around the perimeter, according to Rum. Then both sides moved to a smaller room to sign documents in a scene that "reminded me of the Paris Peace Conference," he said.

It was a peak moment in a relationship that has been building for more than a decade.

Patients from Abu Dhabi and other UAE states have streamed to Hopkins' East Baltimore campus for advanced treatment. The UAE pays medical bills and airfares for citizens who need treatment they can't get at home - not just at Hopkins but elsewhere in the United States and Europe.

When they come to Hopkins, they are often cosseted in the hospital's luxury wing, the Marburg Pavilion. Amenities include a chef and robes to cover those embarrassing hospital gowns.

Hopkins, and other prestigious American hospitals, began developing special services for well-heeled foreign patients about 20 years ago, as insurers began pressuring for discounts and questioning the need for some procedures. Foreign patients pay list price, buy extra services and don't need insurers' permission.

The UAE is the largest supplier of patients from the Middle East to Hopkins, with about 250 last year of about 3,000 foreign patients, including many from Europe and Latin America.

After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the flow slowed sharply, as it became more difficult for patients, especially from the Middle East, to get visas quickly enough to be treated.

Hopkins has sent doctors to the UAE - and to England and Switzerland - to treat UAE patients, including members of the royal family, according to Rum. Citing patient confidentiality, Hopkins officials would not elaborate.

In the institution's first contract to manage a foreign hospital, Hopkins assumed operation last year of Tawam Hospital in the oasis town of Al Ain, birthplace of Sheikh Khalifa and his father.

Other prestigious academic medical centers have been at work in the oil states. In Dubai, Harvard advises on a "health care city" and the Mayo Clinic runs a cardiology center. The Cleveland Clinic is part-owner of a hospital in Jidda, Saudi Arabia. Cornell has a complete medical school in Doha, Qatar.

While the U.S. medical centers are competing, so, in a sense, are the oil states, lining up projects with high-profile Western partners in "a little bit of one-upmanship," said Jon B. Alterman, director of the Middle East program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

A new generation of leaders, often educated in the West, is coming to power, Alterman said. "They're determined to be more cosmopolitan and to be perceived as more cosmopolitan."

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