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Gov’t assures trauma center aid

Some hospitals have faced deficits because of lack in funding
Nov 27,2017
The Ministry of Health and Welfare pledged to improve the work environment at local trauma centers on Sunday, after pleas for more government funding from a star doctor received a flood of public support.

A petition on the Blue House’s website calling for better treatment of trauma center staff garnered more than 230,000 signatures as of Sunday. The movement was inspired by Dr. Lee Cook-jong, head of Ajou University’s trauma center in Suwon, Gyeonggi.

The doctor is currently treating a North Korean soldier who crossed over to the South on Nov. 13 and sustained five bullet wounds when his fellow soldiers shot at him.

While speaking with reporters on the soldier’s condition, Lee frequently cited dire work conditions at the trauma center, mostly complaining about lack of funding from the Health Ministry. Lee said overwork and fatigue have nearly cost him his sight in his left eye.

Korea currently has nine trauma centers fully equipped with gear, while eight more are waiting for government funding to replace old equipment.

Since 2012, the government has required trauma centers to work around the clock, with the goal of lowering the country’s preventable death rate from 35.2 percent in 2010 to below 20 percent by 2020.

Each center receives 8 billion won ($7.4 million) for equipment procurement and upgrades, and an extra 700 million won to 2.7 billion won each year.

In press conferences, Lee has often taken issue with the lack of government health insurance coverage, saying the government only reimburses trauma centers with surgeries they see as “main treatment,” which often leads centers to deficits.

Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon called on the Health Ministry last Friday to look into the issue and devise solutions.

Jeong Tong-nyeong, head of the ministry’s division of health insurance benefits, said Sunday that the ministry would “try to review as positively as it can” the health insurance benefits for trauma centers and ensure centers don’t go in the red.

The official added that the government plans to discuss with experts outside the Health Ministry how large the scope of the overhaul should be.

If the review process concludes that a trauma center hasn’t been reimbursed for a certain procedure in the past and needs to be, the ministry will refund the center, Jeong said.

Jeong added that the government will discuss trauma centers’ chronic staff shortage, especially in nurses and emergency medical technicians, to come up with a plan in the near future.

The overhaul could affect the ministry’s budget plan for 2018.

In its proposal to the National Assembly last week, the ministry said it would allocate about 40 billion won to trauma centers, down 8.9 percent from this year’s amount. Last year's budget was 7.8 percent lower than what the government set aside for trauma centers in 2015.

Jin Young-joo, who leads the ministry’s division of emergency health care, explained that the deduction reflected about 10 billion won that the government didn’t use in this year’s funds.

About half of that amount was supposed to be used to hire new trauma doctors, but Lee said that in an environment where doctors have to work overnight once every three days and still cover day shifts the following day, it’s hard enough to keep his colleagues from leaving the job.

BY SHIN SUNG-SIK, LEE MIN-YOUNG [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]