Greek Hospitals Suffer In Ailing Economy In Greece, hospital budgets have been slashed by more than half. Doctors say they lack basic supplies, including those needed to save lives. Both public and private doctors have seen their salaries cut, delayed or even frozen. Meanwhile, unemployment is taking a toll on patients' health.
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Greek Hospitals Suffer In Ailing Economy

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Greek Hospitals Suffer In Ailing Economy

Greek Hospitals Suffer In Ailing Economy

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There is almost no sector in Greece that's gone untouched by that country's roiling financial crisis. One of the hardest hit is the country's hospitals, where budgets have been slashed by more than half since 2007. The facilities lack basic supplies, like surgical gloves, something the European Center for Disease Control and Prevention says will contribute to high infection rates. And nearly all doctors have seen their pay cut, delayed or frozen. Joanne Kakissis visited a state hospital in the northern Greek city of Serres, where the staff is overworked, underpaid and demoralized.


DR. CHARALAMBOS VELIOTIS: (foreign language spoken)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (foreign language spoken)

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Pediatrician Charalambos Veliotis is examining a young brother and sister in matching track suits. They've been coughing for 10 days now.

VELIOTIS: (foreign language spoken)

KAKISSIS: We only have five pediatricians in the entire region, he says. The region is called Serres, and it's in the northern province of Macedonia, on the border with Bulgaria. More than 200,000 people who live here. Dr. Veliotis says he sees the effects of the country's 26 percent unemployment rate on his young patients.

VELIOTIS: (Through Translator) We're seeing children with severe malnutrition. We're seeing children who have fainted in school from hunger. Depression is common because their parents are unemployed.

(foreign language spoken)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: (foreign language spoken)


KAKISSIS: His next patient is a three-day-old infant girl with a cleft lip. He gives the baby's parents tiny syringes and shows them how to relieve her nasal congestion with saline.

VELIOTIS: (Through Translator) We ration supplies, medicine, everything. Sometimes, we pay out of our own pockets to buy them.

KAKISSIS: Dr. Veliotis has been practicing for eight years, but he makes just under $2,000 per month, after a 30 percent pay cut.


KAKISSIS: The Regional Hospital of Serres has 100 doctors and 80 residents. The main entrance is draped with a hand-painted banner denouncing the budget cuts.


KAKISSIS: Neurologist Vangelis Papamichalis checks out a patient's brain scan. He makes about $1,600 a month and often works nearly 100 hours a week. Because the state hasn't paid bills to pharmacies, his epilepsy patients often wait days for their medication.

DR. VANGELIS PAPAMICHALIS: Through Translator) In medical school, we were taught to give our patients the most modern care. But in reality, we're working under the same conditions as 50 years ago.

KAKISSIS: Last year, he tried to save a man in the emergency room who had suffered a massive stroke.

PAPAMICHALIS: (Through Translator) Because we don't have a stroke unit, we couldn't relieve his thrombosis. He died. I was so upset because if I had the resources to do what I needed here, this man could have made it.

KAKISSIS: Dr. Papamichalis says he wants to stay in Greece and fight for health care reform. But his colleague Dimitris Kokkinidis, who's a hematologist, says he's lost hope.

DR. DIMITRIS KOKKINIDIS: (foreign language spoken)

KAKISSIS: Many days, we run out of vials for blood samples or we don't have reagents needed to test the blood, he says. It's just tragic. His salary has been cut in half. He now makes about $1,200 a month. His wife, Despina Rizopoulou, a family doctor at a private clinic, hasn't been paid for 11 months.


KAKISSIS: Dr. Rizopoulou works at a Euromedica Red Cross clinic in the nearby city of Thessaloniki, where the couple lives with their three young children. Euromedica is owed millions by the Greek state and by the new government of Libya, whose war victims were treated here last year.

DR. DESPINA RIZOPOULOU: All this floor, third floor, was filled with Libyans, with no other patients were here. And they didn't receive the money that was agreed with the Libyans.

KAKISSIS: She's not sure she will ever get paid, so she and her husband are now looking for jobs in England and Switzerland.

RIZOPOULOU: I can't stand anymore this insecurity. Everything here is collapsing: the health system, the educational system. We just can't imagine our children growing up in an environment like that.

KAKISSIS: For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis in Thessaloniki.

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