Liberia: Ganta Methodist Hospital Workers End Strike

The workers’ union at Ganta United Methodist Hospital have concluded their strike action after reaching an agreement with the management following several days of negotiation.

The decision to cease the go-slow action was reached on Tuesday, February 20, after four days of shutdown.

The strike commenced due to the hospital’s failure to pay salaries for two months, resulting in the closure of various hospital departments. During the negotiations, the workers’ union raised concerns about low salaries, salary increments, disrespectful behavior from the administrator, salary advances, timely payment of salaries, and other benefits.

The management agreed to initiate timely salary payments and address some of the workers’ demands, except for salary increments due to the current financial challenges facing the institution.

The management assured the grieving workers that beginning March 2024, the monthly salary payment would be prompt or on time.

The hospital’s Administrator, Mr. Allen Zomoway, attributed the salary delays to the hospital’s financial constraints, stating that the operational costs exceed the income generated.

He mentioned the high payroll expenses, electricity bills and maintenance costs as major financial burdens on the hospital. Zomoway explained that patient admissions sometimes result in unpaid bills, and the reduction in government subsidies has added to the financial strain on the hospital.

“The hospital currently has a staff of about 265–275, costing about U$21,000 monthly for payroll, while another huge cash expense goes to electricity and other maintenance works,” he said.

“Our regular electricity bill from Jungle Energy Power is US$500.00 every day.”

He said most of the patients in the hospital cannot pay their bills. Some were brought by police from the scene of an accident or from a disaster like a fire incident.

“Some treatments are done on gratis, [especially if] brought in by police or from accidents by Good Samaritans,” Zomoway said, adding that the annual government subsidy had been reduced to US$50,000 from US$350,000 in the last three years.

“The management even finds it difficult to receive all the approved US$50,000 from the government,” he added. However, he appreciated the government for more government doctors and nurses assigned at the hospital.

The hospital has also experienced a decrease in support from U.S. partners, possibly due to policy differences related to gay marriage.

“Our US partners are not sponsoring us like before due to policy differences,” he said.

The administrator doesn’t clarify what he means by policy differences, but it had been insinuating that Global Mission had reduced her support to Methodist because of the church refusal to endorse gay marriage.

“This hospital cannot survive on intake alone, so we are going to cut down costs or reduce staff to enable us to pay our staff on time,” he said.

Following the strike action, the management plans to implement cost-cutting measures, potentially impacting staffing levels to ensure timely salary payments. The strike disrupted hospital operations, leaving patients without medical attention and raising concerns, particularly regarding the care of pregnant women and other vulnerable patients. 

Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Albert Willicor, emphasized the importance of uninterrupted healthcare services, expressing concerns that strikes may negatively impact patient care and public trust in the hospital.

The recent strike action has highlighted the financial challenges faced by Ganta United Methodist Hospital and the need for sustainable solutions to maintain essential healthcare services.

This is one of the major ‘go slow’ actions at the hospital recently, where all departments closed their doors, leaving the hospital completely deserted, with‌ no electricity.

At the time of the strike, patients on the various medical wards were screaming for help or treatment, but nobody could pay attention to their conditions.

Ganta United Methodist Hospital is one of the leading referral hospitals in Nimba, but the repeated strike actions have brought the entity and its staff to public disrepute, with many stressing the strike posed threats to those seeking medication, especially pregnant women.

“Our job doesn’t require strike or go–slow, because if any patient dies, we will be criticized, with many believing that we are more concerned about money,” said Dr. Willicor.