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July 2012
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Cuban doctors treated private patients in public hospitals

Posted on Friday, 07.20.12

Cuban doctors treated private patients in public hospitals

They treated private patients in public hospitals, ran post-surgery

clinics in private homes

By Juan O. Tamayo

A number of Havana doctors, nurses and others are under investigation

for allegedly treating paying patients in public hospitals and running

post-surgery recovery rooms in private homes, according to reports from


Among those reported to have been interrogated by are medical

personnel from the Calixto García , built in the early 1900s

near the of Havana medical , and the Workers' Maternity


The case highlights the growing reports of low paid Cuban medical

personnel treating patients who pay under the table to receive better

care than what they can receive from a deteriorated public system

— the island's only legal alternative.

Cubans living in South Florida often pay in dollars to improve the care

of relatives on the island, said Miami physician Julio Alfonso, or

undergo medical procedures themselves during visits to the country to

avoid the high costs of U.S. health care.

One exile living in the United States said his family paid $500 so that

his father-in-law could recover after surgery for peritonitis at a

private home, with full-time nurses and a hospital-type bed. He asked

for anonymity because the arrangement was .

The private clinics "may not meet all the proper sanitary conditions,

but I don't doubt that they have better conditions" than many public

hospitals, added Alfonso, who heads Solidarity without Borders, a group

of mostly Cuban-American physicians.

Doctors in Cuba, where the government controls the entire health system,

have long provided better treatment to patients who could give them "a

little gift," said the father of a gynecologist outside Havana. "But it

has been a matter of a pig or a chicken."

But after the Soviet Union ended its massive subsidies to the island in

the early 1990s, the public health system began to deteriorate and

medical personnel started to offer more complex procedures for cash,

usually U.S. dollars.

Cuba's government-controlled news media have not reported on the Calixto

Garcia case, although word of the detentions has been circulating in

Havana for several weeks. The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and

the blogs Havana Times and Diario de Cuba posted reports on the case

Thursday and Friday.

Havana activist Elizardo Sánchez said he had confirmed

reports that five to 12 medical personnel had been detained for

interrogation and sent home to await the prosecutors' decisions. They

were alleged to have performed relatively simple procedures, such as

plastic surgeries and abortions, on paying patients in public hospitals.

The BBC correspondent in Havana, Fernando Ravsberg, noted the Calixto

Garcia case and wrote that "all members of the political class have a

relative or a friend who has had liposuction or received breast

implants" — presumably by paying.

The Calixto García case reportedly involved procedures that took place

at night, Havana Times Erasmo Calzadilla wrote. Ambulance

drivers later delivered the patients to the post-surgery care centers in

private homes.

Darsi Ferrer, a Havana physician and who arrived in Miami last

month, said the under the table medical treatments have long been "the

day-to-day reality" for Cuba's medical personnel and public hospitals.

Surgeons earn about 600 pesos per month — about $21 — and hospitals

often must ask patients to bring their own bed sheets, soap and light

bulbs. Nurses make extra money by giving injections at home, and

dentists charge under the table for anesthetics.

Last year, 13 administrators and staffers at Havana psychiatric hospital

popularly known as Mazorra were sentenced to five to 15 years in

for the death of 26 elderly patients during a cold snap in 2010. The

personnel had allegedly stolen food, blankets and medical supplies that

had been earmarked for the patients.

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