Health workers save lives. We remind the Government not to forget them
It is sad that the Government owes health workers, namely the frontline staff including doctors and nurses, money for allowances and overtime work.
Today, we can only hope that someone in a position of authority would do the decent thing and tell these workers what is going on. Someone from the Public Service Commission, the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Finance or any of the relevant Government officials must front up. They owe it to them, it’s the least they could do.
Let us be reminded here and now that we are talking about doctors and nurses. They have been at the coalface of the nation’s health battles since the measles outbreak, which killed 83 people last year. It wasn’t that long ago when these men and women were required to sacrifice days, weeks and months of work to help this country pull through one of the deadliest health crises in Samoa’s living memory.
We remember stories of how many doctors and nurses never made it home to see their children, wives, husbands, spouses and loved ones for days and weeks. We remember how the international responders paid tribute to the spirit of these local health workers who did amazing things to save lives and help our people pull through. More than six months later, the idea that they still have not been paid allowances owed to them from that time is inconceivable.
It is unacceptable that while the Government continues to talk about their grand plans costing the country millions of tala, that something as simple as paying health workers what they are due cannot be done. Indeed, we are talking about money these health workers have earned. No one has the right to rob them of that money, it is their sweat, tears and hard work and they deserve it just like everyone else.
Now, what is going on? How did we arrive at this situation? Is the Government broke they cannot pay the workers what they are entitled to? These are legitimate questions worth asking.
What we do know is that in Parliament two months ago, the Minister of Health, Faimalotoa Kika Stowers, assured that all health workers, including doctors and nurses, who worked during the measles epidemic last year, were to be paid their allowances.
“The paper has been prepared and should be [ready] by this week, the list is now with Treasury (Ministry of Finance),” said the Minister at the time. Asked why there was a delay, Faimalo said Health had other pressing priorities, including the allocation of workers to district hospitals
“But that is not an excuse to hide behind,” she added. “We have to get it done and any worker would look forward to getting paid for their work and we are looking at that for future matters so that it does not happen again.”
At that time, we took the Minister’s word for it and we were hoping that would be the end of that. But then along came the front page of the Monday Samoa Observer with the headline “Front-line workers not paid promised measles allowance.” As it suggests, the story featured claims by several doctors and nurses who claimed they haven’t been paid their measles allowance.
One of them said: “Other service providers, Government officials [who] worked during the epidemic got their measles allowance.
“It’s becoming the norm for us to chase after our pay that we are entitled to and benefits that our Government [has] been blowing the horn about in public forums.
“This is sad and you wonder why our hospitals can't keep our nurses and doctors, because they feel they aren’t getting the support they should get from the administration.”
A day before, there was another story in the Sunday Samoan under the headline “Govt. owes doctors overtime pay.” The story revealed that doctors working at the Ministry of Health (M.O.H.) have not been paid their overtime for four weeks.
Pay slips seen by the Samoa Observer reveal that for the last two fortnightly pay cycles in July, senior doctors were paid for 80 hours alone, excluding their overtime pay.
The real kicker is that in some cases, the overtime hours could be anywhere between 30 to 80 hours. That is a lot of overtime work per person but it is necessary to keep the hospital running 24/7 and more importantly to save lives.
For all these issues, the Samoa Observer had emailed the Minister of Health, Faimalotoa Kika Stowers Ah-Kau, as well as the Director General of Health, Leausa Dr. Take Naseri, for a comment. The questions sent last week were met with a wall of silence until Tuesday evening when the Press Secretariat issued a response.
“This is the first merged Budget for the Ministry of Health and has encountered some teething problems that are currently being resolved,” part of the response reads.
Well let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and hope they could sort this out as soon as possible. Keep in mind; this is not the first time this issue has surfaced. At the beginning of the year when this issue first surfaced, doctors wrote to the health administrators highlighting their concerns.
“Given the unique nature of our work and the difficult working conditions, such as current severe shortage of Doctors in the service, we strongly feel that this constitutes unfair remuneration for Doctors,” their letter reads. “This was a shock to us all and has brought about a very noticeable drop in morale. Doctors feel disheartened, angry and unappreciated.”
We cannot blame them for feeling that way.
Thinking back to the measles crisis and everything doctors, nurses and all the health workers had to do to save the lives of this nation, it is a shame that this has even become an issue, especially when they have to ask for what rightly belongs to them.