Fate of Jinju hospital cause for controversy

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Fate of Jinju hospital cause for controversy

CHANGWON, South Gyeongsang - Members of the South Gyeongsang Provincial Council are in sharp disagreement over the issue of shutting down the Jinju Medical Center, which has incurred a loss of more than 28 billion won ($24.9 million).

On April 3, the South Gyeongsang government decided to shut down Jinju Medical Center for the upcoming month, part of Gov. Hong Joon-pyo’s push to reform state-run organizations, particularly money-losing ones.

The conflict over the medical center came to a head last week as some members of the provincial government’s Culture and Welfare Committee from the ruling Saenuri Party railroaded a bill to shut down the facility.

At 8:40 p.m. on Friday, members of the Welfare Committee from the Saenuri Party passed the revised bill stating regulations over establishing and operating state-funded medical institutions.

The bill included a plan to shut down one of its two state-run medical centers. They decided to keep the one in Masan operational.

Lim Gyeong-sook, chairwoman of the Welfare Committee of the South Gyeongsang government, wrapped up the quick process by slapping her desk three times with her palm a second after she exclaimed, “Are there any objections?”

The fate of the medical center will be decided if the bill is approved in the plenary session that is scheduled for Thursday.

Since 39 seats, or 68.4 percent of the total seats, of the South Gyeongsang Provincial Council are occupied by the ruling Saenuri Party, the revised bill is expected to be approved at the plenary session.

The Standing Committee of the Welfare Committee is composed of a total of nine seats, and six of them are held by Saenuri, while the other three seats are filled by one main opposition Democratic United Party member, one Unified Progressive Party member and one independent.

The two liberals tried to occupy the committee chairwoman’s seat from 9 a.m. to stop the ruling party from being able to conduct the committee meeting and pass the bill, but failed.

After the bill was passed, members of the medical center’s labor union gathered in front of the hospital and staged an all-night sit-in protest.

“The party hasn’t planned anything yet [for the plenary session],” said a Saenuri member of the provincial government, adding the decision will likely be made on the day in accordance with the situation.

Unlike the ruling party members, 11 council members from liberal parties have already occupied the chamber of the provincial government since Thursday.

“We will try our best to solve the problem by April 18 [Thursday],” said Seok Young-cheol, a member of the provincial council from the UPP.

While the South Gyeongsang government was in chaos, Chin Young, minister of health and welfare, said that he is considering ordering the medical center, which is temporarily closed, to restart its operation after holding a Health and Welfare Committee meeting at the National Assembly.

When Kim Yong-ik, a member of the Health and Welfare Committee from the DUP, asked, “Don’t you think it is proper to order the medical center to continue its operation?” Chin replied, “[Based on the relevant laws] Yes. I’m considering it and persuading Hong Joon-pyo, the South Gyeongsang governor, to solve the problem.”

Article No. 59 of the country’s medical law states that the minister of health can order a medical institution to restart operations if it is negatively affecting the health of patients due to a temporary closure or shutdown.

By Kim Sang-jin, Kwon Sang-soo [sakwon80@joongang.co.kr]
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