At least 101 workers at the TB Annex Hospital are demanding payment of hazard benefits owed them by the Ministry of Health for the past six months.
The patients at the hospital, located directly behind the Health Ministry in Oldest Congotown, are infected with tuberculosis which is a very highly contagious disease.
The health workers told this paper that their benefits are due for the period September 2014 to February 2015.
They stated that during the heat of the Ebola virus disease (EVD) crisis, they did not close the hospital but remained there at their own risk, taking care of hundreds of TB patients who came in daily when most other health centers and hospitals were closed.
“The government, through the Health Ministry, last year assured workers that they would receive their hazard benefits. Six months have already gone; we have not received a dime yet. We are dissatisfied and no longer trust the assurances coming from the Ministry,” Siafa Kamara, one of the spokespersons of the workers told this paper.
Lucelia Michael, the other spokesperson and Kamara made these complaints about not receiving their hazard benefits on Monday, March 2 at their offices.
Both wondered why health workers in other facilities received their benefits and they at the TB Annex Hospital were not included.
“Workers at the TB Annex Hospital also face risks. We have been here throughout, sacrificing to save hundreds of lives. We decided not to abandon the patients or desert the hospital as TB is contagious and could take away entire families,” Ms. Michael said.
She disclosed that during the heat of the Ebola virus crisis in Liberia, more than 500 TB patients were admitted to the Annex.
Michael and Kamara recounted that some of their patients died, too, but most are still with them and are being catered to and cared for.
“If we had deserted this hospital like most of our colleagues who got the hazard benefits did, what would have been the aftermath for thousands of Liberians in our various communities?” the TB Annex workers wondered.
The workers, however, did not threaten any stay-home action or go-slow but called on the Legislature, Health Ministry authorities, civil society groups and international partners, to make sure that they, too, receive their hazard benefits soon.
The TB Annex Hospital workers include nurses, physician assistants, doctors and other clinical staff.
When contacted, two high level officials in the health sector, one from the Ministry of Health, said the hazard benefits were promised to those health workers “directly in the frontline battling the deadly Ebola virus disease.”
They asked that their names be kept anonymous. One of them, who was directly involved with the negotiations that brought about the hazard benefits for health workers, stated that the benefits were promised to every health worker at both private and public health facilities in the country.
He, however, clarified that it was decided at the meeting held last year at the offices of the Liberia Medical Dental Council (LMDC), that priority be given to health workers working at the various Ebola treatment units (ETUs), those handling and burying Ebola dead, Ebola ambulance drivers, contact tracers and workers in health centers and clinics which might likely handle Ebola cases.
The government agreed to pay a lump sum US$5,000 death benefit to the family of each healthcare worker who died while treating people with Ebola.
At that meeting Finance and Development Planning Minister Amara Konneh had said, “We [government] are aware that there are other issues that need to be addressed and we will make every effort to accommodate the concerns of our health workers while counting on their professionalism and patriotism.”
The deal is expected to cost the government about US$30 million over a six-month period beginning September 2014 and was intended to ensure that healthcare workers who had abandoned health facilities, returned to work to fight the EVD.
The agreement also included the hazard pay for healthcare workers indirectly engaged in the fight against Ebola.
Those directly involved in fighting the Ebola epidemic were expected to receive monthly hazard pay as follows: ETU supervisor – US$850, medical doctors – US$825, nurses US$435, Lab technicians – US$435 while ETU managers and general practitioners were to be paid US$450 each.
Ambulance drivers were also expected to receive US$350, Ebola case investigators and social workers US$350, hygienists and logisticians US$300 while janitors, contact tracers and security personnel were to get US$250, respectively.
Also benefiting from the government’s monthly hazard pay program were doctors, nurses and other health practitioners who are not dealing with Ebola related cases.
According to the agreement, medical doctors in this category were to receive US$350 each while nurses, pharmacists, physician assistants, midwives and lab technicians were to be paid US$300 each.