Thousands of Muscovites Protest Hospital Closures and Layoffs

Around 6,000 People Rally against “Collapse of Medicine” in Moscow
Farida Rustamova and Artyom Filipenok
November 2, 2014
rbc.ru

A rally against health care reform in Moscow brought together six times more protesters than originally announced, uniting medical and educational trade unions and people from entire spectrum of the political opposition. They protested against the city government’s plans to close twenty-eight medical facilities in the near future. The protesters demanded the resignation of Moscow deputy mayor Leonid Pechatnikov and the heads of the capital city’s health department. According to organizers, another protest, this time nationwide, has been planned for late November.

The Stop the Collapse of Moscow Medicine rally took place on Sunday [November 2, 2014] on Suvorov Square in Moscow. According to rally organizer Alla Frolova (leader of the civic movement Together for Decent Medicine) around six thousand people came out for the rally, despite the fact the announced number had been one thousand.

“We are grateful to the doctors who were not afraid of being laid off and came. Seventy percent of the speakers were doctors, and many people wanted to speak at the open mike we announced at the end of the rally,” Frolova commented.

She told RBC that the trade union Action planned to hold a nationwide protest against medical care reform on November 29, and Together for Decent Medicine would support it.

The speakers included representatives of Yabloko, the December 5th Party, and the CPRF, and Andrei Nechayev, leaders of the Civic Initiative party and former economics minister. The rally was also attended by activists from independent trade unions (Confederation of Labor of Russia, Action, Paramedic.ru, a trade union of ambulance workers, the trade union Teacher, and opponents of reforms at the Russian Academy of Sciences) and opposition movements, from far-rightists (the National Democratic Party) to anarchists.

The rally was attended by people of all ages, but the attendees were mainly middle-aged and elderly. Several protesters wore uniforms of doctors and orderlies. The slogan on the placards borne by protesters called for “bureaucrats to get a conscience shot,” “demolish old Soviet residential buildings, not maternity hospitals,” and so on. Many of the attendees were health care workers who had either been fired or threatened with layoffs. All the protesters with whom RBC spoke wished to remain anonymous, for fear of losing their job and not finding a new one.

ukraine

Protester at Sunday’s rally: “They screwed up with Ukraine, now they’ve moved to medicine. Let’s say a firm no to closures and layoffs. The people who busted the budget should be fired.” Photo courtesy of RBC

Psychiatrist Alexander still works at Psychiatric Hospital No. 14, but the hospital is among those slated for closure by 2017.

“We have slowly been cut back. Over the past two years, half of our 1,100 beds have been slashed. My salary has not been cut yet, but it has been kept afloat by layoffs of coworkers,” he said.

According to Alexander, the elimination of clinics will primarily affect the most disadvantaged people. He warned of a possible increase in the number of offenses and suicides committed by patients, who will be left to fend for themselves at inpatient facilities.

“Western Europe already went through this in the seventies, when psychiatric hospitals there were closed. Later, they had bring them all back,” said the psychiatrist.

The doctors, nurses, trade unionists, and party activists who gathered at Suvorov Square in Moscow demanded an end to layoffs of doctors and wage cuts, and a moratorium on the reorganization of medical facilities. Another demand was the dismissal of all the top managers of the Moscow health department involved in reorganizing the Moscow health care system. During the rally, doctors even promised to organize a Doctor at Hand protest rally where attendees would be able to get free medical advice. Organizers said that doctors who had been planning to attend the rally had been threatened with dismissal.

Marina, a nephrologist, received a layoff notice on Friday.

“I, a highly qualified nephrologist, will be unemployed as of January 1 of next year due to a downsizing of beds. Ten of sixty beds are left in our department at Izmailovo Municipal Children’s Hospital, which has been merged with the Morozovskaya Hospital. Since April, only a third of our five hundred employees are left. I have come here in the hope that we will be heard, because as these reforms continue it will only get worse,” said the fired doctor.

Elena, an anesthesiology nurse, expects to be fired after the New Year.

“Our hospital, Gynecological Hospital No. 5, was merged with Municipal Clinical Hospital No. 57: now we are Medical Diagnostic Unit No. 3. In the past two years, eighty beds have been slashed at our hospital. The remaining one hundred and ten beds will be cut to sixty, meaning only one of five wards will be left,” she said.

Despite the fact she has worked twenty-one years, she is the first to face redundancy, she says. Her salary is now 22,000 rubles a month [approx. 400 euros at the time of publication]. Over the past two years, it has been cut by forty percent.

“Who is now going to provide qualified gynecological assistance to women in our place? We are told that we aren’t wanted,” said Elena.

Ekaterina came to the rally instead of her relatives, who were threatened with dismissal if they went.

“My relatives work in Moscow’s oldest eye clinic, on Mamonovsky Alley. In December, the clinic will turn a hundred and ninety years old. Now it is Branch No. 1 of the Botkin Hospital. This clinic is being vacated. It is on the timetable of hospitals slated for downsizing, and by 2017 there will not be any doctors or patients there,” said Ekaterina.

Not everyone could make it to the rally. As an ob-gyn doctor from Medical Unit No. 33 who identified himself as Dmitry told RBC, a shift prevented him from going to Suvorov Square. According to him, layoffs have also been made in his unit, which is attached to Hospital No. 40.

“Many of my colleagues no longer believe the situation can change,” he said, expressing hope that the rally would have some impact.

In a number of Moscow hospitals, Sunday had been declared “Health Day,” which, people in the crowd claimed, had been done specially to prevent doctors from taking part in the rally. Rain TV reported this, in particular, citing a source in Clinical Diagnostic Center No. 1.

In the resolution adopted by the rally, protesters demanded an immediate halt to “pseudo-reforms to health care in Moscow.” Organizers were also interested in the fate of the real estate vacated after the closure of the health care facilities. There were also demands for the immediate resignations of Moscow deputy mayor Leonid Pechatnikov and the top managers of the Moscow city health department, who had been “discredited by their involvement in the destruction of Moscow’s health care system.” As Frolova told RBC, rally organizers had invited Pechatnikov and health department chief Alexei Khripun, but the deputy mayor’s office only promised to pass the invitation on to him, while Khripun was represented at the rally by an aide, who “remained incognito.”

Protesters called for a public debate on the present state and future of the Moscow health care system involving members of the medical community, the Pirogov Doctors Movement, Together for Decent Medicine, and other public organizations. They demanded that all discussions be public, and the proceedings be published in the media.

“The demands in this resolution will be sent to municipal and federal authorities,” the conclusion of the resolution states.

Cuts to medical institutions in Moscow have been underway since late last years. According to the working version of the timetable for closing Moscow clinics and maternity hospitals, employees at twenty-eight facilities, including fifteen hospitals, will be fired and their premises vacated. Employees have already been laid off at several hospitals listed in the timetable. The bulk of the closures will take place by April of next year.

hospital closures infographic

Plan for eliminating medical facilities in Moscow. Courtesy of RBC

“We did not want to publish [the timetable] because we were crying softly in our offices. But since it has already gone public, we can now all cry together,” said Pechatnikov, commenting on the document.

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Read more about the planned hospital closures in Moscow and the public outcry:

  • Andrei Kozenko, “‘You closed a hospital, open a cemetery’: doctors rally against health care reforms,” Meduza, November 2, 2014 (in Russian)
  • Alison Quinn, “Moscow’s Deputy Mayor Attempts to Allay Panic over Health Care Reforms,” Moscow Times, October 29, 2014 (in English)
  • Lyudmila Alexandrova, “Russia’s fast-tracked health service reform sparks protests,” Tass, October 21, 2014 (in English)
  • Ilya Matveev, “Who built them?” OpenLeft.ru, October 17, 2014 (a list of facilities scheduled for closure, in Russian)
  • “We were crying softly in our offices,” Navalny.com, October 17, 2014 (in Russian)
  • Dina Yusupova and Konstantin Gaaze, “Why hospitals are being closed in Moscow,” Bolshoi Gorod, October 17, 2014 (in Russian)

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Meanwhile…

Moscow, October 16, 2014, Interfax. On Thursday, Admiral Vladimir Komoyedov told Interfax that, according to the draft budget, a record sum of 3,286,800,000,000 rubles [approx. sixty billion euros] which amounts to 4.2% of GDP, would be spent on the national defense in 2015. This exceeds 2014 spending by 812,160,000,000 rubles.

In 2016, the government plans to spend 3,113,240,000,000 rubles on defense; in 2017, 3,237,820,000,000 rubles.

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