MERS takes financial toll on hospitals

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MERS takes financial toll on hospitals

After Gangneung Medical Center reopened in mid-July following a partial two-month closure amid an outbreak of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), it did not receive a particularly warm welcome.

The establishment in Gangwon suffered 3.2 billion won ($2.7 million) in losses. And with no money for labor costs just days before pay day, the medical center recently decided to loan 1.5 billion won through Nonghyup Bank - enough to get through one month, in which personnel expenses for some 130 employees amount to 500 million won, and maintenance and supplies require 1 billion won.

“We’re at a point where we feel like we don’t even have enough rice to prepare our meals,” said Kim Hae-ryeon, who heads the center. “The longer it takes for the government to support us, the harder it will be for my staff to properly work.”

A silver lining for many domestic hospitals affected by the MERS outbreak was the announcement July 3, by the Ministry of Strategy and Finance saying it would support medical centers and businesses hardest hit with 2.5 trillion won.

Still, actually distributing those funds has remained slow at best, many hospitals say, as they struggle to get back on their feet after the virus swept the country two months ago, making it the largest MERS outbreak outside Saudi Arabia, where it was first detected in 2012.

A 200 million won reserve fund was all the Gangneung Medical Center received from the government, it said.

A look into the Health Ministry’s special task force in charge of allocating the 2.5 trillion won budget showed that it took nearly three weeks for the team to issue questionnaires for prospective beneficiaries, the first step in applying for the fund.

Upon receiving the written document, the team will be required to conduct a field study on around 150 medical facilities to determine whether they make valid candidates; only four are assigned to that task. There are 11 members on the team.

A committee will make the final decision whether to support the medical facility, based on data collected.

That committee, however, has yet to be established. A Health Ministry source said it would finish field investigations by the end of next month, and follow through with paying the fee.

BY PARK JIN-HO [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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