Lee Jae-yong, Samsung Electronics' vice chairman and heir apparent of the Samsung Group, apologized on June 22 for the failure of the group's affiliated hospital Samsung Medical Center (SMC) to stop the spread of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).
The SMC has been blamed as a major source of the infection, responsible for about half of the 175 MERS cases in the country, tarnishing Samsung's image. Under the circumstances, the hospital has voluntarily shut down most of its operations.
“Samsung failed in meeting the high expectations of the public to address MERS and gaining the public trust. Feeling devastated and fully responsible, I offer my sincere apology and deep regret to the patients, bereaved families, and all others who have suffered from the disease,” Lee said at a televised news conference at Samsung Seocho Tower in Seoul, after making a deep bow to the public.
“Samsung Medical Center will take full responsibility for the treatment of the patients, and we will make best efforts to prevent a reoccurrence after a thorough investigation,” he said, adding, “Samsung will work closely with the authorities concerned and make every effort to contain the MERS outbreak quickly.”
Lee also spoke about his father, Samsung Group Chairman Lee Kun-hee, who has been hospitalized at the hospital since May of last year after suffering a heart attack, stressing that he knows the pain of having a family member suffering a serious illness.
“My father has been lying in the hospital for more than a year. I understand the agony and anxiety that the patients and their families have suffered,” he said at the conference to more than 90 reporters from local and international media attending. The hospital has repeatedly said that there is no plan for a transfer of Chairman Lee out of the hospital.
“Samsung will also overhaul the management of SMC to prevent any recurrence of the same mistakes made at the outset of the crisis,” the vice chairman added.
The head of the SMC, Song Jae-hoon, who was also at the briefing, admitted that the hospital failed to tackle the disease at its early stages. “To our deep sorrow, we had our weak spots in making initial responses to the virus and figuring out potential patients,” he said.
The hospital will set up a committee comprised of outside experts to revamp its anti-crisis management system, including care for patients at the emergency room, Song added.
Samsung will reportedly join forces with global medical organizations or hospitals for the development of vaccines and treatments for MERS and other infectious diseases.
Vice Chairman Lee recently took office as chairman of Samsung Life Public Welfare Foundation, which manages the hospital. The MERS outbreak has tarnished the image of the Samsung Group as well as the SMC by failing to stop the spread of MERS at the early stage.
The conference comes at a time when Samsung is under attack by U.S.-based activist hedge fund Elliott Associates. Local observers say that heir apparent Lee is facing a leadership test to prove his ability to break through the tough times falling on the Korea’s largest business group.
In the meantime, Vice Chairman Lee’s sister Lee Boo-jin, president of Hotel Shilla, also flew to Jeju Island on June 22 to check the status of hotel operation suspension after a tourist there was confirmed to be infected with the MERS virus.