December 2, 2020
A photograph of a blogger in a chic hospital bed with a string of Remdesivir tablets around his wrist made headlines last week. The man posted that his coronavirus test was positive and that he was quarantining in a hospital hotel in Tehran. So what’s a hospital hotel, what facilities does it offer, and who is able to use them?
The front door of a hospital hotel is more like a hotel than a hospital. Instead of the smell of alcohol and medicine, there’s the smell of fresh flowers and perfume in the air. The doorman opens the door and says good morning. Inside, it looks like a hotel lobby. This is the Gandi Hospital Hotel, inaugurated in late 2014 in the presence of officials from the Ministry of Health, Treatment and Medical Education. Its aim is to promote medical tourism.
“Gandi Hospital Hotel, equipped with various specialist wards, with an area of more than 32,000 square meters, comprising of a 17-story hospital and a 21-story hotel complex, opened with 100 beds, 40 special wards beds, 17 operating rooms, and more than 90 residential suites to accommodate patients or their companions,” the venue’s website states.
A woman is sitting in the reception area, and welcomes me when I arrive. I ask: what do we have to do to stay in hotel suites to quarantine during the coronavirus pandemic? “The hospital hotel is full at the moment and we have no vacancy, but call in the evening, maybe a room will be available,” she says with a smile.
“A patient’s test sheet and medical records are required,” she adds.
When I ask about the cost of accommodation, she says: “It depends on the room, the facilities and the medicine the patient receives. But the cost of accommodation starts from 12 million tomans [$480] per night.”
Kamyar (not his real name) is an administrative clerk at another hospital hotel. “The Remdesivir medicine used to treat coronavirus disease is scarce and poor people go to Nasser Khosrow Street and a thousand other places to buy it at exorbitant prices. But this medicine is thrown around here like candy for patients. They enjoy the highest level of recreational facilities, care and attention in their rooms. For each meal, they order the type of food they want and provide the name of the restaurant from which it can be ordered.”
Kamyar tells me more: “These centers, which are mostly in Tehran — there is just a handful of them — are managed independently with private sector investment. The main purpose of creating them is to provide special health services with special procedures for foreign tourists. Of course, some private hospitals have also opened a VIP ward for this purpose. After the tightening of sanctions and the reduction of tourists, with the outbreak of the coronavirus, these centers have become luxurious places for the quarantine of rich people.
“Some people tell us that we must be happy that our workplace is so stylish, but we get depressed when we see how much money is being spent without being accounted for,” Kamyar said.
Mojgan is a live-in nurse for a 75-year-old man. She stays at her employer’s house six days a week full time. “It’s not a matter of today or yesterday,” she says about the hospital hotel. “It has been a few years now. Whenever he needs special care, he is hospitalized in one of these hotel hospitals. He contracted the coronavirus and was there for two weeks to quarantine himself.”
Mojgan tells me what she knows about the costs of these centers. “I honestly do not know exactly and they do not tell me, naturally, but when my employer’s son was talking on the phone with a friend, I heard him say that the costs are high. Those two weeks of his father’s hospitalization had cost them 500 million tomans [$20,000].”
Mojgan continues: “I do not believe anyone who is rich has stolen from me or violated my rights. Good for them! They must have worked hard and they were smart. But when I see my father so desperate to secure a 15-million-toman loan, and when in these places that amount of money is counted as change, I am heartbroken, and say to myself I wish there was not so much of a class gap between people.”
“Nobody acknowledges our job, and everyone thinks we make money for nothing,” says a blogger going by the name of Armin. “But no one understands about the effectiveness of our advertising. For example, none of these hotel hospitals have been built in the last few months and they are not new, but many people did not even know there were such places. Since our blogger friend was hospitalized there for two nights and advertised the center on his page, people have become more familiar with these hotel hospitals.”
He smiles and continues: “The outcome of this advertising and people getting to know about them is not all bad; more customers will come to them.”
Samira gave birth last year in one of these luxury hotel hospitals, staying in a suite for a week. “Everything was perfect,” she says with satisfaction. “The room was decorated like a bride’s room. The crib was decorated. Everything was really stylish. Not to mention the level of care; they take care both of the mother and the baby.”
“I had trouble breastfeeding my son for the first few days, but they brought a nurse to teach me how to breastfeed,” she said. “She taught me so well and patiently that I was soon on top of everything.”
Samira paid about 120 million tomans [$4,800] for childbirth and accommodation in the hotel hospital she mentions. “Guests also came to the hotel to see the baby,” she says with a laugh. “There was also the roof garden. Sometimes we would go and sit there and sometimes in the restaurant. I took beautiful photos of that beautiful time.”
Zohreh, a former nurse who worked at one of the hotel hospitals told me: “People mostly go to these hospitals for childbirth. Since these hospitals have a contract with a number of insurers, the insurer pays part of the cost of delivery. But the cost of hotel accommodation and ancillary facilities such as having a companion must be paid by the patient.”
She is quiet for a moment and then continues: “Childbirth has become like a wedding party; they compete with each other. They say it is a once-in-a-lifetime event to have a child, so why not spend 100 million tomans [$4,000] for it? Of course, with the rates of inflation, it will be more than 100 million tomans now.”
Zohreh admits that the cost of these centers is very high: “For example, they bring in fresh flowers every day. This means there are the costs of luxury hospitals and the costs of luxury hotels. The advertising sector also has high costs. If we want to have online advertisements, the most effective campaigns cost astronomical prices. If our patient or guest is a celebrity or a famous person, these services are provided to them as a gift, so that they are satisfied and introduce us to their friends, and we put a photo of them on our page.”