Handcuffing a tourist who believed he was Jesus, bringing back injured trekkers from the wilds or handling a tsunami. Michael Schulz has been dealing with a variety of emergencies in his time as SOS agent in Thailand. But especially one type of cases is still the biggest challenge.
“I am never nervous, but I am always aware,” Michael Schulz says.
He is sitting in his office at Sukhumvit soi 39 in Bangkok. For exactly 20 years now he has been the regional manager of SOS International a/s in Thailand. He never had a business plan or a plan for his life for that matter, and yet, his company has become the second biggest SOS office in the world today.
“I see the job, talk to people and get ideas from that. I may have had a talent for throwing away bad ideas instead of keep boxing around with them,” he says.
A good intuition together with a strong local network is what Michael believes has been the key to the company’s success.
SOS International provides services to Scandinavian insurance companies, but the clients are from all over Europe. They are presented both in Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar. In 2010 SOS International had around 8,000 cases. Today that number is more than 10,000. Most of the cases are easy to handle, but especially one type of cases is a major challenge.
Jesus without pills
Every year, SOS International has more than 200 doctors and nurses from Scandinavia coming to pick up patients. The most challenging cases, the company deals with, concerns psychosis. Some years ago Michael got a call from a Danish doctor, who happened to be on vacation on the same island where a young tourist had lost his mind.
“He was walking around on the Island, burning himself and saying he was Jesus and the emperor of the island,” Michael tells.
Michael prepared a team of two nurses with an injection needle and a borrowed pair of handcuffs from the local police to pick him up and have him admitted. Although, they succeeded to bring the man safe home to Europe, Michael admits that this is one of the more tricky cases.
“How do you corporate with a person who does not want to listen?”
SOS International very often experiences cases with mentally ill people. Besides assisting Jesus, Michael had a case with a naked tourist dancing around at Sukhumvit. Since the local hospitals are not really geared for these cases, Michael’s best option is to bring them back to Europe. But the services SOS International provides depends on what is included in the specific insurance.
“Pre-existing illnesses for example, are not covered by the travel insurance, but can be covered by a health insurance,” he explains.
Michael did not start from scratch 20 years ago. His former job as tour manager in Thailand since 1980 gave a great network across the country and a good feeling with, how things work. His network has always been helpful in all types of emergency situations, especially the extraordinary ones. December 26, 2004 was one of them.
Michael got a call early in the morning from a friend living in Phuket telling him that some waves had hit Patong Beach, and that people had been thrown up onto the land some hundred metres. Michael called SOS in Denmark right after and told them to prepare their crisis team.
“Are you sure?” They asked him. “No, but do it anyway,” Michael replied.
It was first later that Michael, SOS in Denmark and the rest of the world realized how serious the situation was. In total, 230,000 people were killed in 14 countries when the tsunami hit South East Asia in 2004. SOS International was the first international team to arrive in Phuket that day.
On one side, SOS International provides emergency services, which is everything from taking care of a hospital bill to transporting people out of a jungle. But another service has become even more important during the years: Cost containment.
When Europe became more expensive, and Asia remained cheap: an influx of retirees went to the South to settle down. Along with the influx of retirees and the general growth of European tourists coming to Thailand the prices on treatment and services increased significantly at the private hospitals.
“This development has made the Scandinavian insurance companies much more aware of what they pay for today than earlier,” Michael says.
To avoid overpricing, Michael travels a lot to negotiate prices with local hospitals, and to avoid overtreatment SOS International looks through the hospital bills before approving them.
“Very often you experience that hospitals have been carrying out a lot of unnecessary tests and scans to make more money on the patient. Especially if they can see that the patient is insured by a Scandinavian company,” Michael says and continues:
“However, SOS International never compromises the proper and safe treatment of their patients with the cost of treatment”.
The emergency business changes all the times, but it does not bother Michael.
“I could easily take 20 year more. I like my job. SOS is one of those companies that develops all the time, which makes my job very exciting,” the 58-year-old Dane says.
“I still get these phone calls, where I am standing in the other end of the line and thinking ‘What?’ Every time I am sure I have seen or heard it all, a new case or situation appears”.
This year Michael Schulz will not only celebrate 20 years anniversary for SOS International a/s but also 25 years anniversary for his other company: The Arrivals Company.