It was all smiles yesterday when the army officially handed its old hospital installations over to the government, which jubilantly announced that it would become a public hospital and open its doors to patients from the southeast part of Santiago. But the smiles were much wider in the army: it is doing away with its old hospital because it has just built a huge modern one (pictured below) with the best technologies and facilities in the country.
It’s strange. All of the media has focused on how good it is for Santiago to count with another public hospital, given that the public health system is chronically short of space, beds, material, qualified staff, and resources in general for buying even elemental things, like stretchers (not to mention the poor salaries and working conditions of its employees). Getting operated often implies many months on a waiting list. Getting a specialist to see you is next to impossible: They all migrate to the private sector, where wages and conditions are much better.
But no one seems to be paying attention to the fact that the military has invested many millions of everyone’s taxes in its state of the art 21-acre facilities in a wealthy area on the foothills of the Andes mountains, for themselves.
Apart from our taxes, the military probably tapped into the funds it gets for free from State copper sales, which are ultimately everyone's funds as well. Of course, we will never know that for sure, because the law and the use of these funds are secret. They say the hospital will also be open to the community, but I doubt that the poor people living on the other side of the city who don’t own cars will actually be able to get there.
Seeing the president and other government officials look so happy over their new (old) hospital didn’t make me happy. At the same time the official handover was taking place yesterday in Santiago, some 160 miles south, a six-year-old girl was dying — rather, being killed — in the regional public hospital of Talca. She had gone in for a simple mouth operation and some inept, unintentionally criminal hospital employee gave her an overdose of morphine. She died this morning.
(Six year old Lilian Martinez died of an overdose of morphine)
This is the same public hospital that over the past decade, and who knows for how long before that, has been plagued with cases of negligence and near criminal behavior. Patients have died for stupid reasons in that hospital, just like Lilian Martinez did, and babies have been switched more than once. In one dramatic case a few years ago, two boys who had been given over to the wrong mothers after birth had to be returned to their original families, after years of being brought up by the wrong parents.
The military and their families will have excellent health service, the best in the country, and not that they shouldn’t. Everyone should. But Lilian Martinez didn’t. I just don’t get it.