Hospital Staffers End Protest After New Buildings Promised

Medical staff and officials at the Phnom Penh Municipal Referral Hospital on Wednesday said they were suspending their protest against a secretive land swap for their current facilities after Health Minister Mam Bun Heng agreed to request two more new buildings be built for them.

Mr. Bun Heng met privately with staff Wednesday at the hospital, a day after about 80 doctors and midwives protested against orders to start moving out of their current facilities along Street 169 and into a new building that has yet to be finished.

Staff accused authorities of corruption in making a land swap deal with an unknown private company and said the new building was too small to meet the needs of their patients.

On Wednesday, Mr. Bun Heng personally insisted that reporters leave the room before starting his meeting with the staff and refused to speak with the press afterward. A man answering his phone afterward refused to identify himself and claimed that the minister was busy.

Staff and officials, however, said afterward that the minister had promised to request two additional new buildings for them and would let them remain in their current facilities until they were ready.

Deputy hospital director Dr. Hong Lee Kuong, who joined Tuesday’s protest and attended Wednesday’s meeting, confirmed that Mr. Bun Heng conceded to their demand.

“He accepted…he will request to the government to build two more buildings,” Dr. Lee Kuong said. “The whole staff will do normally at the old building until they build the new buildings.”

He said the staff had agreed to call off their protest.

“All the staff feel very happy,” he said. “I think he [the minister] can do.”

Hospital director Dr. Neth Sovireak corroborated the account but declined to say when the current facilities would have to be vacated and said Mr. Bun Heng offered no timeframe.

“Based on the speech [by the minister], we will use this location to build two more buildings,” he said. “I do not know what will happen to the old building, but we need to build two more.”

The hospital’s head of surgery, who gave his name only as Mr. Vuthy for fear of reprisal for speaking with the media, was wary that the minister would follow through but said he would stop protesting for the time being.

“We have put the strike on hold for a while and we will wait for a solution,” he said. “I will not leave the old building until I see that the new five-story buildings have been built.”

Puth Chethavann, a pediatrician at the hospital, said the one new building presently under construction was too small and lacked adequate bathroom facilities and that he was only “40 to 50 percent” confident the other two would be built.

He said he was also disappointed in the minister for allegedly equivocating when asked pointed questions by the staff for details about the land swap.

“We regret he withheld information about the swapping of the hospital. None of the medical staff knows which company is buying the old land,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Khy Sovuthy)

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