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Emile Bitar hospital a lingering sustainability issue.

Summary: Labor Minister Sejaan Azzi said Thursday that officials would work on temporarily keeping the Emile Bitar Hospital in Batroun under the management of the National Social Security Fund given the current legal and financial incompetency preventing the Health Ministry from taking charge.

BEIRUT: Labor Minister Sejaan Azzi said Thursday that officials would work on temporarily keeping the Emile Bitar Hospital in Batroun under the management of the National Social Security Fund given the current legal and financial incompetency preventing the Health Ministry from taking charge. "The NSSF will support the hospital with backing from the government but cannot afford to lose anymore, with its losses already exceeding LL1.5 billion annually. We plan to hold a meeting with Prime Minister Tammam Salam in the presence of the finance minister to find a long term solution," he said.

Azzi spoke after a meeting at the ministry in Downtown Beirut with Telecoms Minister Boutros Harb, Lebanese Forces MP Antoine Zahra, the acting head of NSSF board of directors Ghazi Yehya, NSSF Director General Mohammad Karaki, Mirna Saadeh, on behalf of Kataeb MP Samer Saadeh, and Moussa Feghali, Azzi's adviser.

The meeting took place after an NSSF decision to terminate its contract with the hospital, one of the few facilities providing almost free health care for residents of Batroun, by the end of the year.

The decision sparked a series of protests by the hospital's staff who said that the move would endanger their livelihoods.

Harb said that the Emile Bitar hospital should not close down.

"This is a matter that concerns us all given that it is related to health care. If the hospital in Batroun closes, God forbid, the people of Batroun will be deprived of a basic service and there is enough deprivation going on already," he said. "Hopefully, a meeting with Prime Minister Salam will clarify how much support is needed from the government to help the NSSF proceed with its management of the hospital without taking on any additional fees or responsibilities."

Health Minister Wael Abu Faour didn't attend for emergency reasons.

Employees of the Emile Bitar Hospital in Batroun kicked off a series of protests in November, criticizing the planned termination of the contract. Protesters dismissed the prospect of privatization or closing down the hospital and vowed to respond with civil disobedience should their demands not be met. They are still awaiting a long-term solution.

Azzi rejected the possibility of hindering the hospital's operations and confirmed the need for a clear plan to sustain it.

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Publication:The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
Date:Nov 20, 2015
Words:435
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