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Strikers Nearly Stop Chilean Hospitals. Forces patients to find emergency care elsewhere

MERGInet News
November 1996

Dozens of people were turned away from emergency rooms Thursday, November 14, 1996 as a walkout by paramedics, nurses' aides and ambulance attendants paralyzed public hospitals in Santiago, Chile.

The strike by so-called auxiliary health care workers demanding higher wages began two days earlier but emergency room care was not affected until Thursday, when patients' relatives and Civil Defense volunteers were forced to pitch in to handle stretchers and wheel chairs at many hospitals.

"The situation is close to collapse," said Dr. Enrique Accorsi, president of the National Medical Association.

Hundreds of patients were transferred to university and military hospitals, and dozens who tried to seek emergency services were turned away.

At Santiago's Central Emergency Hospital, Luis Montesinos, an 84-year-old diabetic who arrived in a taxi with a bleeding leg, was told to go elsewhere.

Allowing volunteers to help out in emergency rooms was "unethical and dangerous, and not enough to keep the services running at even a minimum efficiency," Accorsi said.

Chile's 168 public hospitals care for more than 4 million people. The striking workers are represented by the 40,000-member Public Health Workers Federation.

Health Minister Alex Figueroa accused strike leaders Thursday of stepping up their demands and withdrew an earlier offer to open negotiations mediated by legislators.

The health workers' union has demanded that the government allocate $119 million to finance higher salaries and other benefits. The government says their demands would cost twice that much and called the strikers' attitude "nearly criminal."

The minimum salary of paramedics, nurses' aides, ambulance drivers and other health care workers is currently $120 a month. They seek a 15-percent increase over the next three years.

And we complain about our salaries...

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