▲ PROVIDED BY MEDWIDE. The KU Anam Hospital Building
The Korea University (KU) Anam Hospital stands next to KU’s campus and is hailed as one of the leading medical facilities of our time, equipped with prominent medical professionals and state-of-the-art research centers. However, issues such as hygiene problems, accommodation matters and conflicts with the cleaning faculty of the hospital bruise the hospital community as well as its reputation. It is critical for KU to look deeper into the issue to become more aware of the KU Anam Hospital’s troubles.
Where is the H in Hospital?
Hygiene issues in the KU Anam Hospital were brought to the table when, earlier this year, 11 medical personnel, including nurses and doctors, were infected with tuberculosis. Tuberculosis, a chronic infection that especially affects the lungs, remains one of the most contagious and fatal diseases to this day. That this disease was found within the walls of one of Korea’s leading hospitals raised a major red flag.
According to the results of the KU Anam Hospital’s follow-up research and examination of the medical employees, all but one were not infectious and seven had contracted tuberculosis performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation on patients. Four were infected during their regular latent tuberculosis medical checkups. After their infections were discovered, all 11 of them were isolated, hospitalized and placed on medication. The hospital has released a statement that there were no additional tuberculosis patients and that appropriate treatment was being administered to prevent other such incidents.
Especially when dealing with active tuberculosis patients, everyone working in the hospital environment is exposed to a high risk of infection. For the prevention of future illnesses, it is essential for the KU Anam Hospital to come up with a more stringent and strictly-run manual and protocols for their workforce.
Complaints from the Cleaning Faculty
In the meantime, accusations of poor treatment from Taega BM, which is a property cleaning, security and parking management agency for the KU Anam Hospital, continue to dog the institution. The cleaning faculty of the hospital has, through press conferences, made clear their intention to resist should Taega BM be chosen once more to handle the affairs of the KU Anam Hospital.
Taega BM has been ignoring laborers’ legal rights. The company has also been extremely harsh on them for being a part of the national laborers’ association, which should never be a reason for mistreatment. When corporations infringe upon the Labor Standards Act, which was created to protect the fundamental rights of laborers, penalties in line with the Law of Special Labor Supervision are imposed on the company for further supervision. The KU Anam Hospital’s stance was that they were in a long-term legal contract with Taega BM and thus could not easily change contractors. Moreover, the KU administration has not made many efforts to improve the situation.
▲ PHOTOGRAPHED BY CHOI EUN BYUL. Yeon Eunjung talking about the problems of the employees at Anam Hospital
Yeon Eunjung (’11, Korean Language Education), the head of the student council for labor issues, has stated that “In solving the problem of the cleaning faculty, all of our voices matter.” She went on to say that students can also raise awareness of the issue by showing support at petitions and press conferences regarding this issue. Although this is an ongoing conflict among Taega BM, the hospital and the faculty, differences can be made. “When there are solidarity campaigns, we can join them. Also, it helps to hold a critical viewpoint and look carefully into the issue, instead of treating it as someone else’s problem.”
Will Getting Rid of Beds Do Justice to the Law?
The medical faculty has been filing complaints as the KU Anam Hospital has been reducing the accommodation facility. The hospital’s new project of sending their employees, especially 240 medical specialists, home after their work hours was intended to improve their working environment in tandem with the enforcement of the Special Act on Medical Specialists.
Sleeping accommodations for doctors were closed so as to abide by the Special Act on Medical Specialists, enacted since December 23, 2016, which is designed to keep them from overworking. There used to be about 180 beds for the KU Anam Hospital doctors to use, but only 70 are now left after the hospital decided to further enforce the legislation. The hospital is planning to convert the remaining space into study rooms and lounges. The employees on the working shifts are assigned bed spaces from kiosks, which are electronically-run devices that allow the employees to tag their ID cards in order to select their resting beds. This is the exact same method that can be seen in the library or in the reading rooms in the KU campus.
The reason why this decision, based on good intention, has been receiving criticism from the skeptics is that some doctors have worried that it would in fact worsen the well being of the faculty due to there being less places for them to rest. The kiosks only allow the doctors to take a break from the evening until the morning, which means that they cannot take any breaks during the afternoon hours. When they cannot use the resting beds, they have to temporarily stay in the resting room chairs, which does not guarantee a satisfactory rest.
In addition to such issues, it is difficult for the medical specialists to afford their own accommodation as they rotate among the Anam, Guro and Ansan hospitals for two to three months each. Paying for their new accommodations outside the hospitals costs them way more than the 250,000 won that the hospital is currently paying them. Given the monthly rent in Anam area that ranges from 500,000 won to 700,000 won, 250,000 won is far from enough. When these doctors cannot get places to stay outside the hospital, they inevitably stay within the hospital, where hygiene issues are not properly dealt with. This, in turn, creates a pattern where the medical faculty has no choice but to stay in a hospital with a risk of contracting diseases.
Clearing Out the Fog Clouding Anam Hospital’s Future
In order to keep the hospital service up to the anticipated standard, it is critical to improve the working environment at the hospital, not only for the sake of the medical faculty but also for all those who are involved in running the hospital.
Meanwhile, KU students should not turn a blind eye to treating the issues. Just because the KU students are not part of the medical community, it does not mean that they are excluded from this narrative. The KU Anam Hospital must receive undivided attention in putting an end to the chronic issues of the medical faculty’s housing issues, hygiene problems and the unfair treatment of the janitors.