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Operating costs, old facilities costing government hospitals

Date Posted: 2004-10-22

Too many hospitals. Too many doctors. Too many old buildings.

That’s the problem facing Okinawa’s seven Prefecture-owned hospitals. A new government report shows that six of the seven were deeply in debt last year, even with massive infusions of money from the Prefecture.

Only Showa Hospital in Yaeyama proved profitable last year. The other six racked up debts in excess of ¥36 billion, even with the Prefecture covering another ¥6 billion in expenses.

The committee notes, however, that the Prefecture has an obligation to fund hospitals to provide quality health care for its citizens, despite the high costs. The costs issue is particularly high in remote areas, where the hospitals are required, and are fully staffed by doctors.

Citizens using the Prefecture-owned hospitals are quick to defend the costs, saying their health is on the line, and that they want quality health care available when it’s needed. “It is the duty of those hospitals to protect people’s lives instead of aiming at a profit,” according to one Ishigaki woman.

Doctors speaking anonymously in Naha say it would be nearly impossible to slash the number of doctors in prefecture-owned hospitals. The doctors are a necessity in all disciplines, and. “If there is no medical staff in a hospital, it would be useless as the building alone does not provide care,” said one. They say there is no way to move patients from one hospital to another for basic treatments.

Adding to the Prefecture’s woes, most of the hospital buildings are drastically in need of repairs. Medical professionals say not only are the buildings old, but the equipment is too. They say there’s a need for new, state of the art equipment, as “We would like to concentrate on patients that are in need of high quality specialized modern treatments”.

The Catch-22 is that there’s no money available to buy the new equipment needed to provide the specialized care. One doctor proposes the Prefecture examine leasing the equipment that’s needed, and called for changes in how the Okinawa health care system is managed.

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