The Shanghai government has ordered the closure of one of the city’s top maternity hospitals saying that it was illegally built on land owned by the armed forces, according to an official notice.

Founded by Canadian investors, Shanghai Redleaf International Women’s and Children’s Hospital had signed a 20-year lease for a prime real estate owned by the military on central Shanghai’s Huaihai Road and started catering to foreigners and wealthy Chinese more than four years ago.

Redleaf Hospital. Photo: Redleaf Hospital/Weibo.

Redleaf’s closure was a matter of complying with the “Notice on Total Termination of paid Services Provided by the Military Forces and the Armed Police,” the notice by Xuhui District Health and Family Planning Commission, dated September 1, said.

The People’s Liberation Army has been banned from commercial activities since 1998, with some exceptions. Last year, however, a notice printed in the People’s Liberation Army Daily said that the military would run out any paid-for services and let leases and contracts expire. State news agency Xinhua clarified that the effort was intended to “reduce corruption in the army.”

The hospital is one of the largest private business affected by the so-called de-commercialisation of the military to date.

“There exists a matter of illegal construction of building at the Redleaf Hospital. It must be rectified duly in accordance with relevant laws,” the district government said of its decision to close the facility.

Redleaf Hospital.

A gynaecologist who was vacating her workplace Sunday afternoon said that the owners, a Canadian couple, had invested billions into the clinic. “They had all the right documents and invested so much money… it just doesn’t seem fair,” she said.

Christine Cheng had been working as a nurse at Redleaf’s gynecology department for almost two years. “We spent a lot of money and work building this, and now the government wants us to move… We didn’t do anything bad,” she said.

Patients affected

When news transpired last Thursday that the upscale facility would be forced to close, some of the about 300 staff affected hung banners outside the main building criticising the facility’s imminent closure.

The notice and banners – click to enlarge.

The banners said that while the hospital supported the government, it shouldn’t be forced to move, adding that it wasn’t a “soft tomato” — a Chinese expression for a pushover. Police arrived on the scene shortly afterward and ordered that the banners be removed.

Louise Roy, director of patient support services at Ferguson Women’s Health, a clinic that rents facilities inside the Redleaf complex, said that staff first heard about the possibility of a closure several months ago, although they were never given confirmation or a specific date. “They’ve told us nothing — absolutely nothing,” Roy said. “We came in this morning, like [we do] every day. Then we saw staff gathered outside where the banners were hung, and then the police came.”

Several women who were being treated at the hospital were clearly upset as they collected their medical records before closure.

A room at the hospital. Photo: Redleaf Hospital.

“I found out from a friend,” said a 32-year-old patient named Jennifer who would not give her last name because of privacy concerns. She said that she had moved to Shanghai from the U.S. recently and was planning to deliver her child at Redleaf in three months. “I have friends who are due in two weeks or a month — I don’t know what they are going to do,” she said.

Wang Jue, PR supervisor, said that one patient in labor arrived at Redleaf over the weekend and was turned away by government officials. She arrived at another clinic just 10 minutes before giving birth.

Redleaf’s services have been highly sought-after by those who can afford them. A standard cesarean section delivery at the hospital costs 120,000 yuan, and a prenatal package is priced at 24,000 yuan.

Patients have been referred to a temporary clinic while Redleaf is working on a more permanent solution.