For many people of working age, healthcare jobs are well-paying, stable and secure. So why are hospitals in Romania, the costliest country in the world for public healthcare, abandoning nursing jobs for nurses who are paid a third less?
That question leapt out of an alarming story in the news this week. A former patient, who spoke to the Associated Press, said she watched seven people die in a hospital wing dedicated to intensive care. The relatives have filed a complaint with the Occupational Health and Safety Institute in Atlanta, the AP said.
The workers were employed at the Covid General Medical Center in Rosia Montana, 60 miles east of Bucharest. A hospital that had been providing exceptional medical care to area residents for over a century. Yet the hospital is just one in a growing list of Romanian hospitals that have become debt-ridden and facing financial restructuring.
One former employee, Zoltan Bakas, said “We saw people die because doctors never gave them enough medication.” He said workers later got fired for trying to make sure the death rate was lowered.
New staff were supposed to begin training in 2017, but received no additional workers until the start of this year. Now, when a new baby is born at the hospital, there may be nothing for the mother to breastfeed, the mother told the AP. If the mother needs pain medication, there may be no nurse to help. Some employees have told the AP they saw patients lying unassisted on medical beds without any personal care. And some workers reported the deterioration in hygiene. The facility’s administration even tried to dismiss workers in 2006, the AP said.
Romania, like many other European countries, pays half or more than American salaries for health care workers. While Romania has low rates of obesity and diabetes, its hospitals are sprawling. While social security is generous, the healthcare system has not adapted to changing health care trends.
Our nation’s healthcare costs have increased every year for 40 years. Another problem is that American hospitals have long been exempted from strict regulation that applies to other industries, such as banking, real estate, and construction. Our federal government granted hospitals a free pass to have large, expensive workforces that are not subject to the same labor and safety standards.
Congress must lift federal protections and require hospitals to be more efficient and effective in serving their patients. Also, the current court rules must be changed, in a way that ensures states, cities and counties can recover employee-related costs, costs that currently fall almost entirely on federal government and Medicare.
We must begin to give nursing the pay, job security and benefits that American employees deserve.
Dr. Gail Wilensky is chair of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services under President George H.W. Bush.