Hospital Plans Cause Outrage
Published: January 23, 2013 (Issue # 1743)
alexander belenky / spt
The department of presidential affairs wants City Hospital No. 31 (above) to give up its premises to the court judges.
More than 85,000 people have already signed a petition addressed to President Vladimir Putin to defend St. Petersburg’s City Hospital No. 31, which is under threat of relocation. The hospital, one of the city’s most successful clinics in the treatment of child cancer, is currently in danger of being designated as a medical center for the judges of the country’s federal Arbitration and Supreme Courts, which are due to move to the city from Moscow during the next few years.
The list of those who have signed the petition includes not only medical personnel at the hospital and the desperate parents of young cancer patients, but also well-known figures from the worlds of art and science, as well as ordinary Russian citizens.
The list included Zhores Alfyorov, winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics; actors Oleg Basilashvili, Liya Akhedzhakova and Yelizaveta Boyarskaya; actress and children’s charity leader Chulpan Khamatova, international award-winning film director Alexander Sokurov; musician Andrei Makarevich; writers Daniil Granin and Lev Lurye and other prominent figures.
The petition has attracted numerous supporters on Facebook and other social networks through the website of www.change.org, with many also leaving heartbreaking comments.
Maria Sautkina, the mother of one of the hospital’s patients, said the clinic “had the best doctors and equipment, which have saved the life of my child.”
“Only here can my son have annual examinations to prevent the return of his illness,” Sautkina said.
Irina Stelmakhova, another supporter of the petition, said there could be “no objective reason to stop the work of the hospital, which is of vital importance for sick children.”
“The people who are making the decision should realize that the dissolution of the hospital may turn out to be a death sentence for some kids. Sirs, you are not beasts, are you?” Stelmakhova wrote in her comment.
The city’s main oncologist Yury Punanov also disagreed with the idea of moving the hospital. Punanov has written an official statement saying that the hospital should stay on its own premises, Fontanka.ru news website reported.
The Russian Orthodox Church also spoke up in defense of the hospital.
Vladimir Legoida, head of the Synod’s information department, said that although the purpose of providing medical help to the judges was “understandable,” for “they like all other people need medical service,” the “treatment of one [group of] people can’t be done at the expense of other people — especially when we are speaking about children. Our future depends on how we treat children today,” Legoida said on the church’s website Patriarchia.ru, adding that in any society it is difficult to find any other more simple and clear moral priority than the interests of a sick child.
“I believe the community of judges in Russia, which has many worthy people, will consider it morally unacceptable to get medical help if there is the tiniest threat that because of it, children with cancer may suffer,” Legoida said.
On Jan. 20, about 300 people gathered in front of the hospital to demand the resignation of St. Petersburg Deputy Governor Olga Kazanskaya, deputy governor for social issues, and to request the cancelation of the courts’ planned move to St. Petersburg. More meetings in support of the hospital were held in the city last week.
In November, President Vladimir Putin approved a proposal to move the Supreme Court and the Supreme Arbitration Court from Moscow to St. Petersburg at a cost of more than 50 billion rubles ($1.5 billion). The process could take between 24 and 30 months, a senior official said at the time.
In December, a working group aimed at facilitating the move of the courts from Moscow to St. Petersburg made the decision to set up medical facilities for the judges in City Hospital No. 31. Vladimir Kozhin, head of the department of presidential affairs, ordered the city authorities and the country’s Health Ministry to move the hospital’s personnel and equipment to another hospital. No alternative options were suggested in the protocol.
The final decision on which medical center will be chosen to provide medical assistance to the judges is to be announced in February, Interfax reported, referring to Valery Kolabutin, head of St. Petersburg Health Committee.
Kolabutin said the idea of setting up a medical center for judges in City Hospital No. 31 was suggested as one of the possible options, adding that the relocation of only a part of the hospital’s department would cost about 350 to 400 million rubles ($11.6-$13.2 million). The move would take two or three years, he said.
Yelena Grachyova, coordinator of the charity foundation AdVita, which helps children and adults suffering from cancer, said there were only two ways to resolve the problem: “Either to leave the hospital alone or first build a brand new complex for it and only then allow the clinic for judges to move in.”
The hospital, located in a quiet area of the city’s prestigious Krestovsky Island district, has a unique child and adult oncohematology department, as well as departments for bone-marrow transplants, cardiology and kidney transplants. The hospital provides the combined services of chemotherapists, surgeons and emergency physicians, and has a center for radiation therapy nearby, which is convenient for sick children, as it saves them from having to put their health at risk by traveling around the city in order to have the treatment, Grachyova was cited by MedPortal.ru as saying.
Grachyova said moving the hospital had “neither economic, nor medical, nor ethical grounds.”
“Until at least one reason for the move is given, the matter should not even be discussed,” she was quoted by Interfax as saying.
On Jan. 16, a group of deputies from the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly sent a repeat request to City Governor Georgy Poltavchenko enquiring about the future of the hospital.
Poltavchenko answered that “Hospital No. 31 is being considered as one of the options for the location of the medical department to serve the upper court bodies in future.” He added, however, that “no action was being taken on moving the hospital at the moment.”
“Such action will begin only after a final, balanced decision that does not discriminate [against] anyone’s interests has been made. All the discussions that are being held now can be called speculative,” Poltavchenko said in his answer, RIA Novosti reported.
On Wednesday, Jan. 23, supporters of the hospital will gather on the city’s Field of Mars at 6 p.m. for another rally that has been approved by the city administration.
One-man pickets, which need no authorization from City Hall, are being held in support of the hospital every day through Jan. 25 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. near the Ploshchad Vosstaniya, Gostiny Dvor, Admiralteiskaya and Nevsky Prospekt metro stations, the authors of the petition said. Points for gathering signatures have also been set up in several places.