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[Newsmaker] Governor closes public hospital

A signboard stands at the entrance of Jinju Medical Center on Wednesday announcing the hospital’s closure. (Yonhap News)
A signboard stands at the entrance of Jinju Medical Center on Wednesday announcing the hospital’s closure. (Yonhap News)
South Gyeongsang Province on Wednesday closed its main public medical center plagued by snowballing losses, bellicose unionists and heated political disputes.

Governor Hong Joon-pyo pushed ahead with the plan to shut down Jinju Medical Center despite fierce opposition from the union, opposition parties and the central government.

The former ruling party leader sparked a nationwide controversy when he warned that the government will shut down the country’s second-oldest public hospital unless its operations improved.

“The provincial government and assembly have requested the union to cooperate with managerial improvement (of the hospital) for many times. However, we couldn’t help but to shut down (the hospital) because (the union) showed no self-driven efforts and remained to maintain their personal gain,” Hong said in a statement.

He added that the municipal office has dismissed 70 union members.

The governor has been keeping his head up on his closure plan in spite of widespread criticism for abandoning the hospital’s public role. Union members as well as lawmakers and council members from opposition parties tussled over the plan, blaming the provincial government for applying a market principle to the public hospital set up to deliver social services to people in the region and not to seek profit.

The Ministry of Health and Welfare has also been voicing its opposition to the plan as it contradicts President Park Geun-hye’s ambitious public health projects. President Park vowed during her presidential campaign that she will expand state investment in cash-strapped public hospitals nationwide to help them continue their public role to serve low-income and elderly citizens.

Health Minister Chin Young even paid an unprecedented trip last month to convince Hong, one of his political allies, to reconsider the plan. Despite pressure from the public, political circles and the central government, the governor resisted and carried out his plan.

Due to the closure order, the public hospital in Jinju ends its operation of 103 years. But the case is likely to spark another heated debate whether it is right to shut down other regional public hospitals that have been in a similar financial situation as Jinju Medical Center. There are a total of 34 regional public hospitals with a combined yearly deficit of 65.6 billion won ($58.0 million).

By Cho Chung-un (
Korea Herald daum