Beirut government hospital extorts the Lebanese University

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Rafic Hariri University Hospital. (Photo: Haitham Moussawi)

By: Hussein Mahdi

Published Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Lebanese University resident physicians at the Beirut government hospital organized a sit-in today inside the hospital to protest the fact that they have not been paid their salaries since last July. Their protest against the hospital administration reveals the considerable pressure that is being exerted on the Lebanese University to increase its financial contribution to the hospital and decrease the number of its students training at the hospital to make room for students from private universities.

The last thing the Lebanese University (LU) needed was another public institution contributing to its sabotage. Since last July, the Rafic Hariri University Hospital (Beirut government hospital) has refrained from paying the financial dues owed to sixth and seventh-year students at the Faculty of Medicine who are training at the hospital. It gave these students a choice between leaving or working for free even though the university’s financial contribution to the hospital covers their dues.

The students stopped working at the hospital on September 10 after they got tired of waiting and of the promises made by the university administration to resolve the issue, especially that they had received an honest response from the hospital administration: “You come here to learn and we can easily replace you.”

The students began their training at the hospital in July as resident physicians. Since day one, the hospital administration explained to them their rights and responsibilities. They were asked to open a bank account at BankMed which the hospital deals with. The residents were supposed to be paid their financial allocations through direct deposits in those bank accounts. But on July 15, information was leaked about the hospital’s intention not to pay resident doctors. The students inquired with the administration of the Faculty of Medicine who insisted on denying the news.

At the end of July, all hospital staff and doctors were paid their salaries, except the resident physicians. The hospital administration told them they are here to learn only and do not deserve any financial allocations. When they inquired further, the hospital administration informed them that: “it can replace them easily if they don’t like it, after all, there are a lot of other students.”

Pressure to increase contributions

Why is the hospital administration treating LU students this way? Informed sources told Al-Akhbar one of the goals is to pressure the Lebanese University to increase its financial contribution to the hospital. The university ultimately complied and its administration increased its contribution by a billion Lebanese Lira (LL) ($661,500) on top of the LL 300 million ($198,450) that the Faculty of Medicine used to contribute in previous years. But the Lebanese University wanted a pledge from the hospital administration that it will pay resident physicians their dues including retroactive pay from previous months in order to transfer the additional contribution money.

The hospital administration promised the dean of the Faculty of Medicine, Pierre Yared, to do so but the hospital’s board of directors did not have good intentions for the Lebanese University or its students. Walid Ammar, director general of the Health Ministry and government commissioner at the Beirut government hospital, said in a call with Al-Akhbar that nothing compels the hospital to pay the money, because “they [resident physicians] come to learn.” He said the Lebanese University president and the dean of the Faculty of Medicine were informed months ago – in the presence of the health minister – of the decision by the new board of directors to not pay any dues to LU resident doctors. “If the university insists on paying them, it should do it from its pockets.”

He added deridingly: “Students at private universities pay an arm and a leg to learn and they come train for free, while LU students do not pay tuition, they learn for free and they want us to pay them too.”

According to Ammar, the hospital wants to use the university’s contribution to pay the salaries of doctors (students specializing after the seventh year) who come from the Faculty of Medicine at the Lebanese University but wants to exclude sixth and seventh-year students. However, the students practice medicine like any physician in the hospital and their salaries therefore should be the responsibility of the hospital itself. Sixth and seventh-year students work regular shifts and are paid their allocations from the university’s contribution.

Pursuing private universities

Sources inside the hospital told Al-Akhbar that the hospital administration wanted to get a LL 4 billion ($2,646,000) contribution to cover its fiscal gap. Students’ wages (83 students) are LL 730 million ($482,895.00), that is 60 percent of the proposed contribution by the university (LL one billion and 300 million). The hospital will have 40 percent left, i.e., around LL 570 million ($377,055) that it can use for anything.

There is concern, however, that the additional contribution will mean more wasted funds. These developments have reinforced a belief prevalent among people working at the hospital and the university that there are plans to replace LU students with the Lebanese American University (LAU) students. LAU is looking for a hospital to sign a contract with to train its students. In addition, the Arab University is lobbying to increase the number of its students training at the hospital. These interests cannot be served except by disrespecting the weakest group and treating LU students with contempt.

When the Beirut government hospital was established, we were told that it is a university hospital meant to be for the Lebanese University. But now it is accepting students from private universities. It is also receiving sixth and seventh-year students from the Faculty of Medicine. Doctors in training are paid LL 700,000 ($463) monthly in the sixth year and LL 800,000 ($529) in the seventh year. This money is considered compensation for the time that the student spends in the hospital filling forms and working night shifts.

The student physicians who organized a sit-in at 10:00 am today inside the hospital depend on this financial compensation to pay for transportation and rent to live in the capital. Working eight hours daily in addition to working night shifts twice a week does not allow them to get another job and make some money to help support themselves until they finish their studies. Instead of rewarding them for the work they do for the hospital, the hospital administration refuses to pay its dues and deprives them of the lunch meal they were given once a day.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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