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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Epidemic Sparks Hospital Closures Plan

ST. PETERSBURG -- Fearing outbreaks of hepatitis, cholera, dysentery and tuberculosis, city health officials are proposing closing down several general hospitals to convert them into specialized disease clinics, despite warnings from doctors that this would jeopardize the health-care system.

The plans, outlined in three decrees from the St. Petersburg Public Health Committee, would force some general hospitals to reconfigure overnight -- displacing hundreds of patients -- to accept only victims of infectious diseases.

"The situation is so serious and the government is doing so little that any epidemic could get out of control," said Alexander Redko, head doctor at St. George's Hospital in the northwest of St. Petersburg and chairman of the city's Federation of Head Doctors.

He said preventative measures like food inspection, proper waste disposal and rat control, plus social programs to help the homeless , those most likely to die from disease, were needed, rather than converting general hospitals.

St. George's, one of St. Petersburg's best hospitals thanks to its strong ties to Germany and the United States, is one of those slated for reconfiguration.

Boris Taits, first deputy chairman of the Public Health Committee, said the planned reconfiguration measures are only temporary measures. He said the city has only one infection hospital for adults and accused doctors like Redko of pushing private agendas.

"Of course, there are some head doctors who have vested interests, in particular Redko, who heads the doctors' federation," he said this week. "St. George's was selected because it has an appropriate technological base and it is smaller than other new hospitals."

Since Russians often stay in hospital for treatment that a Westerner would receive as an outpatient, reducing the number of general hospital beds here, in favor of outpatient programs, may sound like a good idea.

Taits further justified the need to reconvert general hospitals for quarantine and the observation of travelers arriving from India, where there have been recent outbreaks of pneumonic plague.

Redko, however, wants to know why his hospital is to be reconverted for a job it was never intended for, when there are vacant hospital buildings that could be used.