Hospital threatens to close its doors

  • 2000-10-19
  • Antra Linarte
RIGA - "It was a cry in despair to show what is really going on in hospitals of Latvia," said Eriks Kalnins, deputy director of Gailezers, of his hospital's threat not to admit emergency patients unless the state's health insurance fund finds money to pay for them.

One of the biggest hospitals in Latvia, Gailezers, announced in the local media on Oct. 12 that the hospital could no longer afford to treat emergency patients from the regions of Kurzeme, Latgale and suburbs of Riga because of funding shortfalls.

Help will be refused to emergency patients suffering from poisoning, strokes, brain or blood vessels ailments and others with life-threatening medical conditions, said the largest Latvian daily Diena.

The following day the threat was revoked.

"We do not want people to suffer from the mess the health financing system has created," said Kalnins.

He explained that this was the only way the hospital could turn the attention of society and responsible institutions to the situation in Latvia's hospitals.

"We have been writing letters to the Ministry of Welfare, the health insurance fund and other responsible institutions, but nothing has changed," he said.

The problem is with the health financing system, said Kalnins. The cost of providing medical help grows every year, but less and less money comes from the state budget. In 1998, 4 percent of GDP was allotted to the health care system, this year 3.65 percent. In 2001 the figure will be down to 3.55.

The health care system in Latvia is underfunded, he said, and a comparison between the Baltic states is very unfavorable. State subsidies to health care in 1999 were 3.9 percent of GDP in Latvia, while the corresponding figures were 7.2 in Lithuania and 5.1 in Estonia.

Hospitals are sinking further and further into debt to the nation's health insurance fund. Combined, hospitals in Latvia have overspent 4.5 million lats on their respective budgets with more than two months left in the year.

Many hospitals are not happy with the health care financing system in Latvia. Two other large hospitals in Riga are in the same situation. Stradina Hospital has overspent more than 200,000 lats from the health insurance fund and Riga First Hospital about 25,000 lats.

Janis Ozols, director of Riga First Hospital, said that the problem is not only in funding, but that "we have gone back to a financing system we used to have in Soviet times. Money is divided into regions depending on the number of the people residing there."

"Money should follow the patient. The patient should be able to choose a hospital that can provide better medical treatment," said Ozols. "That would create competition between hospitals as well."

The Ministry of Welfare would not comment on the funding problems. "We are gathering materials and meeting with the health insurance fund on Oct. 19," said spokeswoman Zane Fridrihsberga.