Blacktip Island business leaders are betting the Caribbean island’s pristine beaches and rustic medical facilities will draw visitors eager for medical adventures in the tropics. (photo by Wendy Beaufort/BTT staff)
Hoping to capitalize on a growing tourism trend in the region, Blacktip Island’s business leaders Thursday approved a plan to market the small Caribbean island as a medical-tourism destination.
“This medical tourism stuff’s all the rage these days,” island mayor Jack Cobia said. “The Bahamas, the Cayman Islands, Cuba, they’ve all got sick and injured folks lining up to pay top dollar for life-saving treatment in the tropical sunshine. We’re hitching our star to that wagon quick as we can.
“It’s the natural extension of our existing tourism product,” Cobia said. “Sure, Blacktip’s a little rustic compared to some of the high-end destinations, but that’s our strength. Why recuperate in the hustle and bustle of Old Havana when you can heal body and soul here on our tranquil beaches?”
Community leaders stressed Blacktip’s medical shortcomings.
“You’re right. We are an island of 120 people, give or take. No way we can compete with five-star locales like Grand Cayman,” Blacktip Island Chamber of Commerce president Rich Skerritt said. “We only have the one little clinic, kinda like your high school nurse’s office. It’s backwater, under equipped and under staffed, but that’s the draw.
“We’ve positioned ourselves as the adventure medical tourism destination to bring in all the young adrenalin junkies,” Skerritt said. “It’s an untapped demographic. Anyone can go to a top-notch facility and get world class treatment. Here, we just have an on-call nurse—who may or may not be able to help you—and basic medical supplies. We don’t even have an x-ray machine. You can go in for a flu shot and come out worse off than when you went it. It’s not for the faint of heart. Literally.”
Some on the island questioned the initiative’s appropriateness.
“It is completely unethical to provide anything but the best care possible,” Tiperon University Blacktip medical school chair Dr. Ernestine Bass said. “To intentionally entice patients to a facility incapable of providing adequate care for serious medical conditions is wrong and potentially criminal.
“We have a serviceable clinic that covers the basic needs of our residents and guests. But that’s all it’s designed to do,” Bass said. “Any medical emergencies, we send patients off island quick as we can. We’ll end up doing that with these medical tourists, too. If there’s a seat on the plane. People will get hurt, or worse. Jack and Rich might as well market this as ‘Darwin Was Wrong Travel’”
Patients, however, raved about the program.
“Medical care’s gotten so stale, so run-of-the-mill lately,” island visitor Buddy Beretta said. “This is more primitive, and so visceral. It gets you in touch with your ancestors and everything they went through just to survive.
“For my colonoscopy, they ran out of anesthesia,” Beretta said. “They gave me a shot of rum, a stick to bite on and away we went. It makes you feel alive. Unless something goes wrong. And recovering in a beach hammock was way better than in a hospital bed.”
Program backers are optimistic about future expansions.
“Right now the clinic’s only got one room and two beds, but if this takes off, we’ll add another room, and maybe get a part-time doctor.” Cobia said. “The nurse’ll get more proficient as she gets more practice, too.
“End of the day, nostalgia plays a huge role in this,” Cobia said. “Our pitch is, ‘In junior high, the school nurse could make everything better. On Blacktip Island you can regain that lost youth.’ Sure, we may lose a few patients, but with an operation this size, you have to expect a few losses.”