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A doctor shortage at Majuro Hospital is reaching a crisis level compelling the Marshall Islands Government to reach out to Marshallese doctors living abroad for help.
The abrupt departure of two surgeons in early December is the latest in a string of doctors breaking contracts and leaving Majuro.
The only surgeon now on staff is set to leave Christmas week, which could leave the nation’s capital without the services of a surgeon.
But Health Minister David Kabua is optimistic the doctor shortage will be solved with outside support. The Public Service Commission and the Ministry of Health are “working around the clock to quickly remedy the situation at the hospital,” Kabua said Thursday.
Majuro Hospital has had a difficult time keeping overseas doctors and dentists, which it depends on because of a lack of locally trained medical specialists. Kabua said the government is asking several Marshallese doctors who are working in Palau and Yap to return to work at the hospital.
But former health minister and now opposition leader Senator Alvin Jacklick said Thursday bringing back Marshallese doctors is not the solution since there are many more vacant MD positions at the hospital than there are Marshallese doctors overseas. “My recommendation to government is to change (hospital) management,” he said. “When doctors resign suddenly, there is a reason. They (hospital administrators) talk to doctors like they are clerks. We must allow them to perform their jobs without interference.”
Jacklick said the reason doctors are leaving is they “cannot function in this environment.”
Public Service Commission Chairwoman Marie Maddison said the government is asking Marshallese doctors working in other places to return home to work.
Currently, in addition to the imminent lack of surgeons at the hospital, there is no obstetrics/gynecologist, radiologist, anesthetist, and there are shortages of internists and pediatricians.
“We have contacted our Marshallese doctors working abroad for assistance and Dr. Robert Maddison will be returning and hopefully along with his wife who is an OBGYN specialist,” Kabua said. However, Kabua pointed out that Maddison’s contact in Palau does not end until March.
Meanwhile, hospital officials are also working on recruiting a Marshallese doctor working in Yap with her doctor husband, both of whom previously worked in Majuro.
Kabua also said they hope a Majuro-based doctor who left the hospital because of issues with management will return to work at the hospital.
The Ministry of Health has also asked assistance from the California-based Canvasback health group, and medical groups in Taiwan, Australia and New Zealand to provide physicians. Taiwan has previously provided specialists to fill gaps at Majuro Hospital on short-term, six-week assignments.
Jacklick said, however, the problem is management at Majuro Hospital. “If we give the doctors and nurses the tools they need to function, the hospital will work well. But management is not providing the tools.”
The current doctor shortage is extreme, he said. On top of this, hospital bathrooms are locked, the floors are not clean, and the hospital “smells like old wounds,” Jacklick said.
The Ministry of Health is the second-highest funded ministry in government, with a budget this year of $24.7 million, or about 17 percent of the government’s annual national budget for fiscal year 2014.
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