An emerging middle class comprising of teachers, small-business owners, call-centre workers and others in the cosmopolitan Narok Town are eager to pay private doctors for better health care.
However, getting value for their money has often been a nightmare for these workers, forcing them to seek healthcare services in the neighbouring counties of Nakuru and Kajiado. But Shepherds Hospital is slowly changing this.
The facility, one of the South Rift Valley’s largest private hospitals, was founded by an ambitious medic-turned-entrepreneur in collaboration with other investors with an aim to offer top-notch health services to a growing urban population.
“Narok is a sweet spot for us,” said Dr Daniel Kemei, the founder and the chief executive officer of Shepherd Hospital, a critical care facility with 80 inpatient beds.
“There is a big cosmopolitan population of emerging middle-income earners who need healthcare as the public facilities are constrained,” added the University of Nairobi-trained physician.
Dr Kemei says the opportunity is massive and the hospital wants to capitalise on the growing urbanisation.
“I saw a gap in the private health sector. I thought I could do it well. I started to explore that direction. I started doing some research. I took a leap of faith and I decided to start a small clinic,” Dr Kemei explains.
He says he started the in Narok Town in 2012 using personal savings and resources from friends in a rented premised where he paid a monthly rent of Sh100,000.
He was joined by six other co-directors in healthcare, legal and accounting professions.
“Part of my idea of starting the hospital is to introduce young people to medical careers, which could make a huge difference in the community. It is difficult to recruit physicians and qualified employees to remote areas,” said Dr Kemei.
The three-floor multimillion ultramodern facility that sits on a one-acre piece of land was opened in 2020 but operations were slowed down by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We operated on razor-thin margins and didn’t have reserves to handle the pandemic’s unplanned expenses. The number of inpatient beds decreased due to fewer admissions. We experienced real financial distress but we managed to pull through and now we are back into full operation mode,” he explains.
“Covid-19 truly tested our survival as a rural hospital due to limited healthcare staff. Nobody knew it was coming and we were not prepared but the reality of the virus and its impact were far worse than we could have imagined.”
The hospital lost revenue from cancelled appointments from early in the pandemic as fewer clients sought outpatient services.
However, Dr Kemei says the hospital’s emphasis is to have a positive social impact first while making money comes second.
“That has been a driving philosophy behind Shepherd Hospital.”
The hospital management has created a one-stop shop for healthcare including dental services, emergency care, maternity, optical, physiotherapy, counselling, outpatient, inpatient care and pharmacy services, which are manned by six specialists. They hope to launch intensive care unit (ICU) services later this year.
“Having an on-site retail pharmacy ensures that patients receive their medications quickly and reduces unnecessary visits to private pharmacists,” he says. “Patients can access the level of care most appropriate to their needs at one facility.”
The hospital started with four staff but today it has 45 employees and hopes to increase the workforce as it pushes for an ambitious expansion plan.
Dr Kemei says the secret of success is investing in qualified staff who will take care of patients, adopting the latest medical technology and effective financial management and governance structures.
“The greatest asset in an organisation is people. We take care of staff and that is why a huge chunk of our investments is in staff and our clients,” said Dr Kemei.
According to Dr Kemei the hospital’s future plan is to focus on preventive care services
“A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures in the doctors’ book. Health care is not about big machines and expensive drugs. It is an everyday thing. You keep yourself healthy by prevention, screening and awareness of lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, cancer, and hypertension and this will reduce the cost of treatment,” concludes Dr Kemei.