All eyes turn to Rafik Hariri University Hospital whenever there is a public health crisis caused by an epidemic. It is also where many of those injured in wars or security incidents are taken for treatment. However, it has been neglected by the Lebanese state, especially the ministry of health, which has taken it out of the list of Lebanon’s most modern hospitals.
With the spread of the coronavirus, however, it has come under the limelight since it is the only health center that is able to treat patients who have caught the virus.
The Rafik Hariri University Hospital building is located on a spacious property in Beirut's Bir Hassan area, and consists of three stories with 400 beds, making it one of the largest hospitals in Lebanon.
The health ministry has equipped a hospital ward, which includes 137 beds, so that it can receive those infected or suspected of being infected with the virus, and it is ready to turn all its departments into a health center for infected people in the event of an increase in the number of patients.
Despite the responsibilities assigned to the hospital, it suffers from two major issues. The first revolves around the need to improve its equipment. The other is the mistreatment of its employees - whether in administrative or medical positions - who suffer from delays in the payment of their salaries compared to other public sector staff.
Hospital personnel protested near its headquarters on Wednesday to remind officials of their demands, and they made their voices heard to Minister of Health Hamad al-Hassan in conjunction with the press conference that was held to update the public on the status of coronavirus patients in Lebanon.
Hospital employees demanded their right to benefit from the pay raises to public sector employees that they are entitled to.
There are many reasons behind the state’s neglect of this hospital, a source from inside the Rafik Hariri University Hospital told Asharq Al-Awsat, the first being that private hospitals in its vicinity are owned by political figures that have no interest in developing the institution. The second is that health ministers have been dealing with the hospital in accordance with their political background and interests. They link any initiative to developing the facility or its medical and nursing staff to political services.
A ministry source denied these claims. “Attending to the needs of Rafik Hariri University Hospital is a top priority for the ministry,” he told Asharq Al-Awsat.
The official also denied that political considerations interfered with its management. “Most of spending on hospitalization goes to this hospital, taking into consideration the share received by private and public universities for treating patients at the ministry's expense”.
He considers that “the employees' objections are shared by public sector staff in general; it is not a problem unique to the ministry of health.”