Russian state owes over 100 mln rubles ($1.4 mln) to the staff of the North Caucasus Multi-Purpose Medical Center in Beslan [a town and the administrative center of Pravoberezhny District of the Republic of North Ossetia–Alania, Russia, located about 29 km north of the republic's capital Vladikavkaz.] The local authorities refer to the fact that the medical center is a federal institution and cannot squander the local budget. The federal authorities are not giving any comments.
According to the employees of the medical center, the current situation was caused by the non-coordination of the officials. Medical workers who were underpaid are going to seek justice.
Doctors on Duty all the Time
In spring last year, when the novel coronavirus was spreading all over Russia and it was necessary to treat infected people as fast as possible, the Health Ministry of the republic issued the order №308, subordinated to the Russian Ministry of Health, of 14.04.2020. According to the order, by the request of the Ministry of the Republic of North Ossetia–Alania, the Center would be re-equipped to provide urgent treatment to COVID-19 patients.
The 533 employees of the medical center in Beslan, from ambulance drivers and paramedics to doctors and professors, began fighting for lives of people. Nearly 2,000 COVID-19 patients were treated at the center, which had become an infectious disease hospital. Discharges, CT scans and clinical records attest to the fact that these were people infected with COVID-19.
Due to their profession, medical workers know well what infectious diseases are and what precautionary measures need to be taken when working in the red zone. Nevertheless, the medical staff also got infected. Worst of all, they brought the infection home and subsequently had to bury their loved ones who could not recover from the disease. The infected employees of the medical center were paid 68,000 rubles ($920.72) by social security. However, no one got bonus payments for their dangerous work with infected people.
Doctors to Seek Guarantees from Putin
It should be recalled that Vladimir Putin announced the payment of additional money to medical workers who work with COVID-19 patients. Doctors all over the country began to receive additional payments.
However, in Beslan, the President's initiative failed. Now, 533 employees of the North Caucasus Medical Center are demanding that the management and the Ministry of Health of North Ossetia pay them the full amount of 114 mln rubles ($1.54 mln) they were promised for their work with the patients infected with the novel coronavirus. However, the authorities refuse to accommodate request of their employees. According to them, the medical center in Beslan is outside the financial and legal framework of the Health Ministry of North Ossetia.
The press service of the local Health Ministry's says that the Beslan medical center is financed from the federal budget. After the issue of temporarily re-profiling the center was raised, "the Russian Health Ministry gave a positive answer, allowing 'temporary changes in the routing of medical care in the republic.' However, it is to be done without transferring the institution to the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Health of the republic and using it as an infectious disease hospital to treat patients with the novel coronavirus infection."
"Accordingly," the press center said, "the local authorities have nothing to do with the administrative and financial issues of the medical center, including the determination of the legal basis for making any payments to its employees.”
Notably, medical workers were paid promised payments for their work during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, but with regard to the first wave a court battle is still ongoing. The Health Ministry decided to use cunning at the end of the year paying bonuses to doctors. They were called ‘COVID-19 bonuses,’ although, in fact, it has nothing to do with the virus. It was just a regular bonus that was always paid before the pandemic.
Whose Side is Court With?
Medical workers who didn’t get the benefits filed a lawsuit in the Pravoberezhny District Court against the Ministry of Health of the Republic and the administration of the medical institution. They demanded compensation for their hard work during the COVID-19 pandemic.
On March 24th, the suit of the first group of medics was considered. Judge Zaurbek Tavitov's denied the claim for compensation.
Although there were 32 plaintiffs, there were many more people in the courtroom.
"There was a huge number of people, and this fact evidently caused some apprehension," said Zhanna Bibilova, a lawyer representing the interests of the medical workers. “It was only after the medical workers were told the date of the main group hearing that a large part of the medical center's staff left the courthouse.
The representative of the center did not give any reasonable answer to any of my questions. So did the Health Ministry of the Republic. Moreover, Judge Tavitov didn't ask any questions either to us or to the defendant. It is strange that in this situation, the district prosecutor's office did not defend the legal rights of the medical workers. As a result, nine months of our hard work were crushed by the five minutes of the court verdict.”
Neither the plaintiffs nor the lawyer agreed with the court ruling. Bibilova said that it would be appealed to a higher court and she promised to appeal the 5th cassation court of general jurisdiction in Pyatigorsk.
Another hearing with similar claims for another group of employees of the medical center is scheduled for April 29.
Seemingly, everything in this case is clear. There is a Presidential Decree on payments to medical workers, and there are doctors who have worked with infected patients. There is documentary evidence of this. The only thing missing is the money the officials do not want to share with, so they shift the responsibility to each other.
The gravity of the situation is also confirmed by the fact that Zhanna Bibilova mentioned threats she has been receiving in connection with this case. She has already filed a complaint against the actions of employees of the Pravoberezhny prosecutor's office to Alexander Morozov, the public prosecutor of North Ossetia-Alania.
According to some reports, a commission of representatives of the Prosecutor General's Office and the Investigative Committee is on its way to the region to look into what is going on. We would like to hope that the regional and federal authorities will figure out their powers and that the medical workers, who risk their health every day, will receive not the denials but the money they are legally owed.