Hospital turns patients away

  • 2000-10-26
  • Antra Linarte
RIGA - People paying taxes in Latvia expect health care to be provided for free, but it was not the case for a University of Latvia student, originally from the Aluksnes region, who arrived at Riga First Hospital on Oct. 23.

The student, who refused to give her name, was suffering from a throat infection and was told at the hospital's reception desk: "Sorry, you are registered in Aluksnes region so we have no money to treat you [here]."

Riga First Hospital stopped treating long-term patients from outside of Riga since Oct. 23, and is going to stop taking emergency patients beginning Nov. 1 because of funding shortfalls, according to Janis Ozols, the hospital director.

"Even doctors' Hippo-cratic oath does not oblige them to work for free," he said. "We have no choice but to refuse to provide medical assistance."

Last week Gailezers Hospital threatened to refuse treatment to emergency patients but decided against it.

The hospitals' actions stem from the State Health Insurance Fund's announcement last week that no more money will be given to the hospitals.

Money from the state budget is divided into regional health insurance funds and earmarked for people living in the regions.

The fund's director Inara Bluke explained that the Health Insurance Fund has implemented its side of health care provision by distributing money. She said it does not owe any money to the hospitals and that it is now the responsibility of the Ministries of Welfare and Finance to provide more.

Minister of Welfare Andrejs Pozarnovs said that such an action from the Riga First Hospital as well as Ozols' announcement that they would deny treatment to some patients was completely tactless.

If the hospital has difficulty providing medical help it should inform the Health Insurance Fund and the Welfare Ministry a month in advance, not announce it in the media, said Pozarnovs.

"It is possible that such an announcement is made not because of economic reasons, but in connection with the upcoming municipal elections," he said.

But Bluke pointed out that this problem has occurred because of bad management in the hospitals.

Ozols said that the problem is lack of funding from the state budget and poor management of patients being admitted to hospitals.

Riga First and Gailezers hospitals receive three quarters of the emergency patients of Latvia, occupying space budgeted for regular patients.

"Ninety percent of our patients are emergency and on every emergency patient we are losing 8 lats because for regular patients we are paid more," said Ozols.

In 1997 Riga First Hospital overspent 45,000 lats; in 1998, 155,000 lats; and this year it is already 50,000 lats over budget with two months left in the year.

Riga First Hospital can change its actions only if more money will be allocated, he said. Currently Parliament is discussing the possibility to add 400,000 lats for emergency medical assistance.