Hatred and Corruption in Health Care: Is It Time to Act?

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Sergiu CEBAN
Another outburst of nationalism and hatred in daily life, this time in the health system, is only a symptom of a serious disease that has long afflicted our society, and which the authorities have no intention of treating at all
In a series of ongoing political events last week, the country was suddenly shaken up by a seemingly everyday incident at the Timofei Mosneaga Republican Clinical Hospital in the capital. One of the attending doctors told a patient that he “wants to shoot her with a Kalashnikov” because the woman did not know Romanian and spoke only Russian. The conversation was recorded by another patient, and the video later went viral on social media and provoked a flurry of different reactions. Minister Ala Nemerenco, who is in charge of health care, had kept silent about the incident for several days, until finally she made the strange statement that the whole situation was “a dramatised performance, where everyone played their part”. According to the official, each part of the electorate has shown itself and also demonstrated its political orientations. At the same time, the minister believes that “the Romanian language remained where it was”, made a bad reference to the statements of the far-right Romanian statesman Octavian Gogu, who is the subject of numerous concerns even in Romania. Nemerenco left the final decision on the situation to the hospital management. It is interesting that the minister and the head of the capital’s hospital are likely to differ significantly in their assessments, as the institution itself has publicly disagreed and strongly condemned the words of its doctor. According to the hospital, all patients deserve to be treated fairly and with respect, regardless of the language they speak or their ethnicity. “Following a video that appeared on social media in which a doctor at the institution discriminates patient on the basis of language and ethnicity, we would like to inform you that such behavior does not meet the values we promote”. Although the medical institution has already apologized to the patient, the incident is expected to be analyzed by an internal ethics committee in the near future. The Council on Preventing and Eliminating Discrimination and Ensuring of Equality also intervened in the proceedings, urging everybody who speaks out publicly or on social media about the case to refrain from hate speech and discrimination. In addition, the Council emphasizes that it condemns statement that may advocate, incite, promote or justify any form of hatred based on intolerance or discrimination on any grounds, including nationality, ethnic origin, language, place of birth and place of residence. Ombudsman sent a request to the Ministry of Health and the Republican Clinical Hospital to initiate an investigation of the medical personnel who provoked the incident, as well as to analyze its circumstances and causes. When everything took a menacing form for the hero of the notorious video, he began to call it a “harmless joke” made to supposedly relieve preoperative stress, and claimed that the video had been edited and the phrases taken out of context. But one thing is important - the defamed doctor did not apologize or admitted his guilt. Thus, he confirmed that he actually professes such views and does not regret what he did. Politicians and public figures were divided over the incident. Some praised and supported the doctor who has such a “bright and uplifting” position, while others harshly condemned him for these statements. Another demonstration of domestic chauvinism laid on fertile political soil and gave its first sprouts. Just yesterday, a group of people favoring to the doctor gathered in front of the government building to demand a set of measures in defense of the Romanian language and against those who do not want to learn it. The protests are expected to continue today, in order to put pressure on the medical institution and prevent it from taking appropriate disciplinary penalties. By the way, last week the health care system received several more painful blows, which testify to the extremely deplorable state of affairs in the medical sphere. First, the law enforcement bodies apprehended two heads of department at the Ialoveni district hospital on suspicion of taking bribes on dozens of occasions. The doctors took money from patients that was not recorded by the institution’s accounting office; moreover, one of the suspects is under investigation for extortion and systematic corruption for speeding up medical examinations without prescriptions. A few days later, 14 searches took place at the Oncological Institute in the capital in a corruption case involving senior officers among others. They are also suspected of extorting and accepting bribes from patients, the National Anticorruption Center reported. Commenting on the incident, health minister Ala Nemerenco promised to raise doctors’ salaries and asked medical workers to give up the habit of taking money. Well, absolutely “convincing”. A tough week behind, the health minister made revelations on social networks about the scale of corruption in the system she is in charge of, noting that some schemes have been built up over decades. According to Nemerenco’s estimates, at least 1.5 to 2 billion lei is stolen from the country’s medical centers every year, and this is far from just the unofficial payments that somehow go into doctors’ pockets. “We can write volumes about corruption in health care system,” the official said lyrically. In addition, corruption was rampant in the drug registration system at the Medicines and Medical Devices Agency, the procurement system at the Center for State Centralized Health Procurement, the contracting system with medical institutions and the National Health Insurance Company. After such revelations and aggressive statements of the hospital’s doctor from the capital, the minister of health, as well as the premier should think about personnel changes in the department (and at the highest level), and law enforcement bodies should take a closer look at the situation in our health sector. It is also relevant to recall that in 2019, a similar story with a law enforcement representative caused a wide resonance in society. After a patrol inspector stopped a car and heard the driver’s request to speak to him in Russian if possible, as he did not understand the state language, the policeman responded with a rude refusal, noting that he understood Russian but was not obliged to speak it. The Council on Preventing and Eliminating Discrimination and Ensuring of Equality considered the actions of the policeman to be contrary to Article 7 of the Law on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National Minorities and the Legal Status of their Organizations. As a result, the whole incident was described as a misunderstanding. If we look at the reactions of the relevant authorities and politicians of various levels, as well as at the comments of our fellow citizens in social networks, the case in the republican clinic clearly demonstrates the level of division and latent national hatred that still lives in our society, including even people of honorable professions. The early 90s seriously traumatized us and we never got rid of the most discriminatory attitudes towards national minorities and, apparently, we have simply hidden these disputes in kitchens, government backrooms and the offices of medical workers. Unfortunately, the statesmen continue to leave this crucial issue out of attention (and sometimes even exacerbate it with their actions and statements). So, these situations will continue to arise time after time until they turn into another tragedy.