By Marion Ali
The government has written off the debt that citizens owe the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital (KHMH) as their “Independence Day gift” – an amount that totalled $9 million.
The announcement came during Prime Minister Dean Barrow’s Independence Day address on Monday in Belmopan. It is a buyout of citizens’ debt in exchange for the $2 million government will provide to the KHMH Authority for a salary increase that its staff has been clamouring for.
“Of course, in trading off these bills that people owe to the KHMH, we won’t be giving KHMH dollar for dollar. We will, though, pay them enough to do two things. The first is to fund the salary increase to the expected tune of just about $2 million. And the second is to assist with residual costs for the new, state-of-the-art, PICU/NICU that is to be opened next month. The figure for this should not exceed another $1 million…
“This write-off to the public of $9 million in their unpaid KHMH bills, which the collection agency hired by the KHMH will now no longer be hounding anyone for, is this year’s Independence Day gift to people from the Government of Belize”, the Prime Minister said.
The KHMH staff, with the exception of a few seconded from the public service when the KHMH Authority came into existence, are not government employees. The government, however, subsidizes the institution with $36.4 million annually, which the hospital uses to pay salaries.
But the KHMH has had issues with self-sustainability for years, and has tried a number of strategies to improve on that, such as the payment recovery scheme Mr. Barrow spoke of. He put one more condition on the hospital’s employees in exchange for the salary increase the are getting.
“We expect that the staff and administration at the KHMH will begin to demonstrate immediately their ability to engage in efficient cost-recovery and the cutting of waste; and that they will start to move now towards the financial self-sustainability that autonomy for the KHMH was supposed to mean”, the PM chided.
The write-off of the debt was the first of a two-part “gift” to citizens.
“For the sake of completeness, and to make that gift even greater, we will also forgive all monies currently owing by patients to all government hospitals throughout the country. This amounts to another $2 million”, the Prime Minister said.