Healthcare6 min read

From Hotel to Hospital in 72 Hours

Blakely Thomas-Aguilar
How American Hospital Dubai’s agile response to the COVID-19 pandemic helped saved lives—and the innovative healthcare IT that made it all possible.

Tourism fuels much of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) economy. The federation of seven emirates in the Middle East is well known for its ultra-luxury beaches and bustling commerce. Recently, the emirate of Dubai ranked ninth globally in a list of cities with the largest number of hotel rooms—more than 100,000 rooms housing more than 16 million international visitors a year.

That was before COVID-19. As the pandemic accelerated around the globe, hospital beds filled, instead.

American Hospital Dubai would soon be challenged by shortages of medical staff, personal protective equipment (PPE) and space. Owning both healthcare and hospitality real estate in Dubai, the Mohamed and Obaid Al Mulla Group had an opportunity to improve lives and health outcomes by reimagining its resources.

To support its community during the global health crisis, the group quickly converted a hotel into a hospital. Not in a year or a few months—but in 72 hours.

This decision would prove lifesaving in the care of some of the more than 91,000 people in the UAE that tested positive for COVID-19.

Like many other countries, the UAE moved as quickly as it could to enforce strict measures on its 10 million residents—nearly three in 10 of whom live in the emirate of Dubai—to curb the spread of COVID-19. Dubai locked down all tourism for a month and established an evening curfew. Still, the outbreak kept coming and continued to infect citizens.

“Every day is an unknown,” explains Ahmad Yahya, chief information officer at American Hospital Dubai in the UAE.

To meet its own high-quality standards and patient expectations, the healthcare organization quickly got to work. They rapidly transformed a hotel into a full-service field hospital to treat COVID-19 patients. A tall order—but achievable—because of its ownership group’s commitment to both corporate social responsibility and modern IT.

Being agile—in mindsets, performance and actions—was critical to the aggressive plan. And digital technology would make all the difference.

Step 1: Keeping the Connection

Infrastructure security, reliability and performance were top of mind as IT readied the new facility. Yet, hospital staff had to deal with supply-chain interruptions. This challenge proved significant. Peaks in short-term demand for devices and IT hardware revealed international logistics breakdowns.

“We had to source hardware from different suppliers, purchasing channels and reallocate hardware and equipment from our satellite clinics,” explains Yahya.

As resources arrived, American Hospital Dubai quickly worked to “secure the hotel’s network, extend our main campus network to the facility and insure proper remote access was provided to clinical and admin staff,” Yahya says.

The team bolstered IT security measures, too. They needed to quickly minimize the exposure of patient data at a much higher standard than guest room security needs. That included reconfiguring the network, implementing firewalls and securing the computing environment to extend the hospital’s main campus network to the field hospital.

The healthcare organization benefitted from the seamless access and agility enabled by its software-defined digital foundation. “Hyper-converged infrastructure is the key to faster time to market and really helps us in our next phase of deployment or transformation,” says Yahya.

At the same time, UAE became an active member of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Partners Platform in response to COVID-19. It was one of the first in the Eastern Mediterranean Region to upload its response plan.

The WHO Partners Platform is a source for all countries to:

  • Monitor regional and global resource needs
  • Streamline the planning, financing and monitoring of the global response
  • Supporting cross-border preparedness/response planning (like international travel).

The end result is greater transparency than the world had during the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak.

Agility has been key. At times like this, you can’t say ‘no.’ You’ve got to figure something out.


Motivation to Succeed

Patients in need keep doctors, nurses and staff persevering through challenges.

One patient, in particular, stands out for Semeh Abu Arqoub, the hospital’s chief nursing officer. The patient spent three months at American Hospital Dubai fighting COVID-19—two months in the ICU, one month on another floor. Now, he’s fully recovered and back home with his family.

“After discharge, he said, ‘First, I have to pass by the ICU team.’ And he gave them a big thank you. And they were so happy to see him again. That makes you feel proud of what your team can accomplish,” Abu Arqoub says.

Digital Makes a Difference

Beyond the field hospital, American Hospital Dubai strengthened its remote-work capabilities for non-essential employees in the call center, finance and HR. The organization launched new telehealth services months earlier than expected to continue to meet the needs of its healthy populations.

It was all possible because of American Hospital Dubai’s digital transformation journey—with Yahya as a key change agent and champion.

In today's world, CIOs can't just sit in the back and keep the lights on. You have to be at the strategy table, showing how technology will move the business forward. COVID-19 is a case in point.


Setting up a field hospital in 72 hours is no small feat. And Yahya calls the effort “a really good testament to where technology really lends itself for the good of not only the city, but for the country.”

“Across the healthcare industry, the adoption of digital technology has been hugely accelerated as hospitals and healthcare authorities scrambled to deal with COVID-19,” Yahya recently told Intelligent CIO. “The pivot to digital that we’re seeing is not going to stop. And these digital investments will support the transformation of medical services in the future.”

Looking Forward

Talking about future plans, Yahya describes investing in a private clinical cloud to serve as a care institution for nearby healthcare organizations and engaging with management about revenue opportunities. Specifically, American Hospital Dubai is working with VMware to build a private cloud. The shared IT service platform will serve both the hospital and the Mohammad Obaid Al-Mulla Group.

“Within the hospital, we currently have silos of IT, for example, in bio-medical engineering and facilities management. But, migrating everything to one common platform will bring lots of benefits,” he says.

The vision is to use VMware vRealize to manage the private cloud, so he and his team “can automate a lot of IT infrastructure management, improve the ongoing management of provisioned resources and understand the consumption of resources by end users.” With a complete digital platform in place, new healthcare services will be easier to roll out, faster.

“The current situation should be an eye-opener to executive management, highlighting the need to invest more in technology,” he says. “The fact that hospitals like American Hospital Dubai have been able to adapt right away should really validate some of the business cases for the investments put forward to them.”