25 years in Ribera: the journey of my life

Today, 1st December 2023, I am celebrating 25 years at Ribera and in the public-private partnership model that we had the privilege of launching all those years ago. On this same day, but in 1998, I was appointed manager of the Hospital de la Ribera, in Alzira, the first privately managed public hospital in Europe. Alongside the journey I’ve made with my family, this has been one of the greatest in my life.

Thanks to the Ribera Group, I have met extraordinary people, from whom I have learned a great deal. I have worked with teams that express passion, dedication and professionalism, with whom it has been a privilege to share the birth of new projects and the transformation of existing ones; and I have had the opportunity to learn about healthcare in many countries around the world, collaborate with prestigious universities on healthcare management courses, and talk about health and healthcare innovation with great political figures and world healthcare leaders. I must admit that when I took over the management of the Hospital de la Ribera at the age of 36, I never imagined I would have all these experiences. 

For all these reasons, I would like to share with you an intimate feeling of belonging, pride and satisfaction. Above all, for having taken the name of Valencia and Spain literally to five continents with a healthcare management model which, political issues aside, has objectively demonstrated, with proven data, that it offers magnificent care to citizens, quickly, without waiting lists and at a lower cost to the administration due to its greater efficiency. And always demonstrating that the slogan we announced back in 1999 of «Humanisation and technology at the service of the patient» was going to be our beacon and our guide.

In these 25 years, not everything has been easy. From the beginning, it has been a hard road on which we have been able to enjoy unforgettable and extraordinary moments, but we have also had to learn from the mistakes we have made. We have also experienced hard and sad moments, some of them the result of irrational and sectarian decisions. But today is not the time to remember them.

Going back to the origin of this life adventure, the first thing I want to tell you is that before that 1st December 1998 I had never been to Alzira, a town 50 kilometres from Valencia, but so badly connected that at that time it did not even have a motorway. For 16 years, the Valencian government of the time had been committed to building a hospital in the region of La Ribera, specifically, since the dramatic floods that led to the so-called Tous reservoir in 1982. But this promise had never come true. Until the mid-1990s, when a group of talented, courageous and fearless politicians and health managers joined forces and resources to make the dream of this region of 250,000 inhabitants come true and to have a state-of-the-art hospital that would look after their health and wellbeing.

My first memory of the project, which gave rise to the model of public-private collaboration in healthcare that Ribera represents, is arriving at a hotel where Adeslas, the insurance company that initially promoted the hospital, had established its base of operations, refurbishing two floors of the Reconquista hotel as offices while the hospital was being built. A beautiful and symbolic name, by the way, to remember the past and look towards the future of Ribera. 

There I met one of the people from whom I have learned the most in my life, Dr. Antonio Burgueño, who at that time was the medical director of Adeslas and whom I have always considered to be the true inspiration behind the Alzira model. Listening to Antonio, I clearly saw the future of healthcare. At that time, he already had it in his head that it should be a paperless hospital, agile, efficient, focused on working for the health of citizens based on prevention and fully integrated with primary care to get proximity and efficiency. I saw a hospital with flexible and advanced remuneration models for professionals and with the most advanced technology for diagnosis and clinical practice. At this point, I would like to place on record my utmost admiration, respect and gratitude to Dr. Burgueño, for what he has meant to the health management model that Ribera represents and for what he has contributed to me over the course of this quarter of a century. I owe much of who I am to my admired Antonio Burgueño.

Starting a project from scratch is never easy and, in this case, we also faced the difficulties inherent to an innovative and groundbreaking model, as there was no other hospital like it, in the world. Our objective from the outset was twofold: to provide the best care for the citizens of La Ribera, who had fought so hard for their hospital, and to do so in a way that would make the hospital a benchmark, a driving force in the transformation of Spanish healthcare. And I believe that, looking back with the perspective of 25 years of work, we achieved this. By working hard, facing up to many who did not want the hospital to be a success, relying on all the professionals and forming a young, brave, committed team with great enthusiasm and total dedication. This is probably why, in a short period of time, this hospital received great national and international recognition, and both public and private institutions, universities and governments visited us and also invited us to explain this model of collaboration and to show its results. 

But in today’s blog entry I want to focus more on the feelings of those first days and months in Alzira and on the people, than on the model itself. I could give the names of many of those who accompanied me at that time, but it would be unfair to forget anyone; I want to thank everyone. We had a lot of good times, but we also had a hard time sometimes. However, I am going to name one person who I think represents all the teams that have been part of my life during these 25 years: Angélica Alarcón. When I arrived at the Reconquista Hotel, the first thing I was told was that I had to hire a personal assistant and I remembered Angélica, with whom I had worked at the Quirón clinic in Valencia a few months before I joined La Ribera Hospital, and who had just obtained her degree in Communication and PR. I thought she was perfect for the job and for the project, because of her intelligence, enthusiasm and personality, especially as I knew that we were in for some difficult times. Today, Angélica Alarcón is the Director of Communication, Marketing and CSR of the Ribera Group and one of the people closest to me. But she is also one of the people who always defends her point of view with enthusiasm and has always made me see reality with sincerity, unadorned and, at the same time, with affection. If from Antonio Burgueño I have learned great things about healthcare, with Angélica I have been able to see and experience what it means to be a great person and a great professional. Through her I want to represent the thousands of colleagues with whom I have had the privilege of working all these years.

From those early days several memories come to mind, a couple of which I would like to share in this very special entry to my blog. The first has to do with the last hours of 1998, while we were having dinner with the whole team that was to start work at midnight on 1 January 1999, and Antonio Burgueño said the words, which I will never forget, and with which we began this magnificent experience: «Orders have been given to all the Primary Care centres and their emergency services that they can now refer patients to the hospital in La Ribera. Alberto, we have arrived». We were all very excited.

The second memory, which is the one that gives meaning to all the work of the model we promote, is when our remembered and admired councillor Joaquín Farnós, now deceased and whom I consider to be the other father of the model, visited us and entered the ICU. There, a lady from the municipality of Cullera thanked him for promoting the construction of the hospital, because her husband had had a heart attack and, according to her words, “would not have made it to Valencia alive”. This has always been our objective: to save lives and improve people’s health and wellbeing.

Finally, I would like to recall the words I said in my speech at the inauguration of La Ribera hospital. «In this hospital we are going to develop a new concept of healthcare, as we have introduced the most important concepts of healthcare for the next century, which are, in our opinion, the humanisation of care, the most innovative technology and the leading role of professionals and civil society».

Today, 25 years later, we have to reconquer these concepts, to give citizens the healthcare they need and deserve. 

Thank you to all those who have accompanied me on this journey.

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