Hospital forces patients out over work dispute
Health workers at St. Johns Mission Hospital in Mzuzu at the weekend discharged patients admitted to the facility in anticipation of a strike effective today.
A spot check by The Daily Times established that as of Sunday, only three critically ill patients were the only ones remaining at the 60-bed health facility; and some of them were being returned or referred to Mzuzu Central Hospital.
The 200 plus workforce at the Catholic Church-owned health facility under the management of Mzuzu Diocese is embarking on a strike to force review of the hospital’s structure amid reports that the position of Hospital Director is being offered to underqualified person.
Some of the clinicians, nurses and patient attendants told The Daily Times over the weekend that the elevation of Charity Chimkono to the post of Hospital Director has been the main bone of contention.
Our investigations have shown that Chimkono, a retired primary school teacher and a Human Resource Management Master’s degree holder, has been at loggerheads with a majority of technical personnel including nurses and medical assistants over matters bordering on operations and resource allocation.
Medical professionals at St. Johns are demanding that a medical practitioner should head the health facility.
“We are sick and tired of how the diocese is running business at the hospital, we want change for the sake of lives that we serve,” said a nurse on condition of anonymity.
The Daily Times also understands that the facility has had no resident medical doctor for over four years but only managed to recruit Doctor Richard Nhlane from Embakweni last month.
The arrival of Nhlane has prompted uproar among low cadre staff who wants him to assume the post of Hospital Director instead of Chimkono.
In an interview, Nhlane acknowledged to have been promised the post during the negotiations prior to his poaching.
“I was surprised to get a contract whose conditions of service are contrary to our earlier agreement, starting from remuneration. Furthermore, I find it unacceptable to report to someone with no medical background. I have notified them I won’t be signing the contract unless it’s amended to reflect details discussed during negotiations,” said Nhlane yesterday.
The news has not amused nursing and medical staff who sided with Nhlane.
The workers on Tuesday petitioned the diocese through the Health Secretary George Matope urging the employer to rescind the decision to appoint Chimkono and offer the job to Nhlane instead.
In response, the board called the employees to a meeting on Friday where they threatened to fire anyone siding with Nhlane who they accused of orchestrating the sit-in.
However, workers have countered the employer’s position citing chronic non-availability of critical medical equipment to administration centric approach being pursued by non-technical medical staff.
“We have not been doing well in terms of administering medical services. As a hospital, we require essentials such as linen, curtains, anaesthetics and essential drugs but this has not been the case,” said a source pleading for anonymity.
The source added that putting a technical person at the helm will help reverse the trend.
When contacted, Matope refused to comment and referred the matter to the Vicar General Father Andrew Chunda who could not be reached on his mobile until Sunday afternoon.
But Chimkono, who claims to have legitimacy for the new position, accused the staff of insubordination.
“The staff is undermining the board, I believe the board has confidence in me and it is capable of making informed decisions. Otherwise, I am a qualified administrator with a Master’s in Human Resource Management,” observed Chimkono.
Meanwhile, Executive Director for Malawi Health Equity Network (Mhen) George Jobe has cautioned the bickering parties to desist from making decisions that would impinge on the people’s right to medical care.
“In this case, it’s not a matter of who deserves the job. It’s a matter of how disadvantaged is the sick patient. Work politics should be kept away from disrupting operations in the wards. Personal career gratification for one person cannot supersede the health need of 60 people, that’s not fair,” observed Jobe in an interview with The Daily Times.
St Johns Hospital is the second largest public health facility in the city.
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