No government interventionThe repercussions from the planned closure of the Jinju Medical Center in South Gyeongsang are alarming. Though the controversy began with the provincial government’s decision to close down the center due to the labor union’s vehement resistance to reform and a budget deficit, it has now turned into a full-fledged political dispute on the need to maintain a public health center after a series of intense protests and even hunger strikes by lawmakers.
In total, 34 medical centers subsidized by municipal governments across the country provide health services to the needy at relatively cheap prices. That’s why they’re perceived to be part of our social safety net. But the labor union’s attitude and the snowballing deficit cannot be excused just because the center’s budget can come from taxpayers’ money.
When the South Gyeongsang provincial government announced a plan to shut down the center, the number of outpatients was merely 200 a year at a medical facility with 244 staff members, including 18 doctors. Its total deficit amounted to 27.9 billion won ($24 million) as of the end of 2012 after registering nearly 7 billion won in losses last year alone. Despite the inevitable red ink for public medical centers, the Jinju clinic can hardly avoid harsh criticism for overly lax management. The labor union has even refused to accept management evaluations from the local government under such circumstances.
The hospital must engage in serious reform if it wants to earn the trust of local residents. After all, it exists only for the benefit of local people, not for the interest of the staff.
The problem with the medical center in Jinju is not a political one worth inviting sit-ins by lawmakers or bus loads of protesters from Seoul. It should be resolved by the parties directly involved: the local government and the medical center.
The provincial council of South Gyeongsang is scheduled to discuss the matter after convening a special session next week.
Any intervention by the National Assembly or the central government would likely hurt the great spirit of local autonomy.
Even if the hospital shuts down, the provincial government in South Gyeongsang must take care of its patients so that they can be conveniently transferred to other hospitals without being burdened with additional expenses. That’s also part of the local government’s responsibility.