A newspaper close to the Rouhani administration says a large number of nurses in Iran have lost their jobs during February, March and April as the income of private hospitals have been declining.
Oddly enough, this is happening while the coronavirus outbreak is escalating in Iran according to Health Ministry officials, and President Hassan Rouhani resists continued restrictions out of economic concerns.
Shahrvand newspaper, owned by the administration, wrote on Tuesday April 8 that private hospitals have not extended employment contracts for a lerge group of nurses. Yet private hospitals in Iran have not been seriously affected by the outbreak as most COVID-19 patients are hospitalized at government-owned hospitals.
The reason for the financial problems of the hospitals, at least partly, stems from delayed payments by insurance companies and the government’s social security organization, which are themselves under pressure due to the coronavirus crisis.
Shahrvand quoted a nurse at a private hospital in Tehran as having said that more than 30 nurses at that hospital have been fired although they were told that they might be called to go back to work later. The nurses are reluctant to complain as they do not want to ruin their chances for a possible re-employment when the situation gets better, the nurse told Shahrvand.
Another nurse told the daily that even some of her colleagues who have contracted the COVID-19 virus have also been fired.
A nurse working at the intensive care unit told Shahrvand that most nurses work on three-months fixed-term contracts and they never know if they have a job after their contract ends.
Meanwhile in a report on April 7, reformist newspaper Ebtekar also wrote that some private hospitals in Iran are going bankrupt and many nurses, doctors and medical staff have lost their job.
Ebtekar quoted Khalil Alizadeh, the Chairman of Atieh Hospital in Tehran as saying that he had to fire half of the hospital's 1,200 staff members as the hospital cannot make ends meet. He added that the remaining doctors, nurses and other staff members can get paid only for 20 days a month as the hospital lacks the financial resources to survive.
Alizadeh said: "I feel like a father who cannot meet the demands of his children. I feel ashamed. As the founder of this hospital, I am experiencing the hardest days of my life.
We have lived together for many years and I did not want to say goodbye to our colleagues. Around 100 of our colleagues volunteered to go on leave without pay. But many others could not do that."
Ebtekar quoted an earlier warning by Iraj Khosrownia, the Chairman of the Internal Medicine Community of Iran as saying: "Unfortunately, the hospitals are on the verge of bankruptcy and this includes the public sector and the 3rd and 4th grade private sector hospitals." As a result, hospital managers declared that private hospitals have started to fire some of their staff members to prevent their bankruptcy while government hospitals are also unable to employ new staff members including nurses.
According to Ebtekar newspaper, "the hospitals' bankruptcy is partly due to the fact that the insurance companies and social security failed to fulfil their obligations. Their non-payment to hospitals reduced the hospitals’ budgets and made them indebted. As a result, they had to fire their personnel and limit their services."
The daily wrote that the situation might push back the hospitals to a period in the 2010s when they referred patients to pharmacies outside the hospital to buy the requirements for their treatment.
Referring to the pressures on hospitals as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, Ebtekar wrote: "Based on figures released by a Health Ministry Spokesman the number of victims among the medical teams reached 43 as of 25 March. The figure has been on the rise since then."
"Not only the hospitals faced shortage of medical teams following the death of nurses and doctors fighting on the frontline of the struggle against COVID-19, but they were also pushed toward bankruptcy and firing their staff members leaving fewer team members to shoulder the workload. This can force us tp face a more serious challenge in the days to come," the daily added.
Taking advantage of the situation, the Ministry of Health has called on nurses to join government hospitals with 89-day contracts in order to make up for staff shortage while it also made it clear that signing short term contracts will not create any obligation for the hospitals to employ the nurses later on permanent contracts.
In the meantime, further spread of the COVID-19 infections makes the situation even worse.
The latest figures released by the Health Ministry says that the total number of infections grew to 64,586.The death toll soared to more than 4,000 as of Wednesday April 8. An exclusive independent report by Radio Farda has put the number of those tested positive for the virus higher than 95,000 and the death toll at nearly 7,000 as of April 6.
In the meantime, while medical experts, including the Health Minister insist that social distancing should continue in order to facilitate disease control, President Hassan Rouhani is adamant to end partial lockdowns as soon as possible.
"Staying home is the easiest thing to do. But people need to go out if some people may not have anything to eat at night if they don't go to work during the day," Rouhani said.