The Liberian government has announced a bumper hazard pay and death benefits for public healthcare workers in the country. The deal which will cost the government about US$30 million over a six months period beginning September, is intended to ensure that health workers who have abandoned health facilities return to work to fight the deadly Ebola virus disease (EVD) in the country.
“We have reached an agreement that the government will cover hazard pay and death benefits for all public healthcare and non-healthcare workers to enhance GOL’s Ebola response,” an elated healthcare worker said.
The Ebola virus has already killed about 79 healthcare workers in Liberia and infected over 80 others who are undergoing treatment at several Ebola Treatment Units (ETUs) in the capital, Monrovia. Hazard pay is additional pay above the regular salary and benefits of a person for performing hazardous (dangerous) duty.
The government’s unprecedented hazard pay and death benefits announcement came during a press conference in Monrovia Tuesday, September 30, minutes after a closed door meeting with the healthcare workers at the Liberia Medical and Dental Counsel’s office.
Under the agreement, the government will pay a US$5,000 flat death benefit to the survivors of each healthcare worker, who lost his/her life to Ebola.
The agreement also includes hazard pay for healthcare workers engaged directly in fighting Ebola and those that are not on the frontline.
Those directly involved in fighting the Ebola epidemic will receive monthly hazard pay as follows: Ebola Treatment Unit supervisors will receive US$850, medical doctors US$825, nurses US$435, Lab technicians US$435 while ETU managers and general practitioners will receive US$450 each.
Ambulance drivers will receive monthly hazard pay of US$350, Ebola case investigators and social workers US$350, hygienist and logisticians US$300 while janitors, contact tracers and security personnel will receive US$250, respectively.
Also benefiting from the government’s monthly hazard pay program are doctors, nurses and other health practitioners who are not dealing with Ebola related cases.
According to the agreement, medical doctors in this category will each receive US$350 while nurses, pharmacists, physician assistants, midwives and lab technicians will be paid US$300 each.
Making remarks after the meeting, the Acting Minister of Finance and Development Planning, Amara M. Konneh, praised the health workers for the sacrifices they are making on the frontline fighting Ebola.
“When Ebola struck our country, it was our healthcare workers that were hurt the most. These men and women are the soldiers on the frontline of this fight and so we must appreciate the sacrifices they are making,” he said.
Mr. Konneh observed that Ebola made some of the health workers retreat and regroup and they were now ready to engage the enemy. He contended that it was in everyone’s interest for the healthcare workers to retreat.
“We don’t want any more of our nurses and doctors to die,” Konneh said as he appealed to health authorities to reopen the hospitals. From all indications, government will begin reopening public health centers by Monday, October 6. Konneh, however, hinted to reporters that reopening the hospitals will be done gradually. Most of the hospitals including the country’s largest referral hospital, John F. Kennedy (JFK) Memorial Center in Sinkor are currently closed.
The Acting Finance Minister has meanwhile called on healthcare workers who are not in government’s direct deposit program to proceed to the bank and open their accounts, advising that the hazard benefits will only be paid by direct deposit.
As for healthcare workers in non-banking communities, he said the government will deploy strong teams in those areas to issue payments, but warned that anyone who engages in malpractice will face prosecution.
For his part, the chairman of the Liberia Medical and Dental Counsel, Dr. John Mulbah, noted that the process leading to the signing of the agreement with the government was transparent.
“The government drafted the proposal and brought it to us and at the same time allowed us sufficient time to study the agreement. We discussed it among ourselves as healthcare workers and derived at the benefit pay rates,” said Dr. Mulbah.
He thanked President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf for seeking the welfare of healthcare workers in the country. “Yes, our healthcare workers died, but we took an oath to save lives,” Mulbah added in an apparent appeal to his colleagues to return to work. “We have many people dying from sicknesses that are not Ebola related,” he said.
According to the LMDC boss, absorbing healthcare workers who were not on government payroll is a bold step taken by the government. He pledged his institution’s commitment to ensuring that transparency becomes the order of the day regarding the payment of healthcare workers.
In brief remarks, Deputy Health Minister for Administration Matthew T. K. Flomo thanked the health workers for accepting the government’s proposal and assured them of the Ministry’s support.