Unclear standards for compensationThe government decided to pay a total of 100 billion won ($84 million) to the medical institutions that suffered damages from the outbreak of the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), and the payments were to be made before the Chuseok holiday. But the compensation has sparked a controversy, because some of the hospitals where MERS patients visited or the hospitals that treated patients were excluded.
The Ministry of Health and Welfare said 133 medical institutions including 45 hospitals that treated confirmed and suspected MERS patients, including the National Medical Center and the Seoul National University Hospital, will receive compensation. Eighty-eight hospitals visited by confirmed MERS patients and later shut down or of which the names were released by the ministry were also included.
The ministry, however, excluded Samsung Medical Center and Gangnam Severance Hospital. Applying the ministry’s standard, the two hospitals should have been included. Samsung had 90 confirmed patients and operations were partially shut down for about 30 days.
Gangnam Severance Hospital was visited by patient No. 141 and treated patient No. 142, but it were excluded without a clear reason.
In contrast, Pyeongtaek St. Mary’s Hospital, the ground zero of the MERS outbreak, will receive 1.1 billion won in compensation.
At first, I thought the conclusion was made after looking into the merits and demerits of the hospitals during the outbreak. But the Board of Audit and Inspection is still auditing the ministry, and a committee to decide the specifics of the compensations has not been created.
Asked about the standards for compensation, a ministry official said, “Samsung Medical Center was excluded because the Gangnam District Public Health Office has filed a complaint for its failure to report a suspected patient in time. There is no grounds to compensate Gangnam Severance Hospital because it said during the outbreak that it would only treat patient No. 142. Pyeongtaek St. Mary’s Hospital, although it was the ground zero, we judged to have done its best to quarantine.”
The compensation to the hospitals comes from the state coffers. It requires clear grounds and strict standards. Arbitrary, ambiguous decisions are unacceptable.
Recently, rumors have spread in the medical community that one hospital was receiving hundreds of million won after one MERS patient just stopped by, while another hospital was given nothing although its damage was severe.
The compensation is meant to ease the pain of the hospitals that suffered unnecessary damage while doing their part under government guidelines during the MERS outbreak. It is not meant to be a reward or a punishment. If such an arbitrary standard is used to give compensation, it is doubtful that hospitals will cooperate when another outbreak hits the country.
*The author is a national news writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 24, Page 29
by LEE ESTHER