The Ministry of Health and Welfare said it would come up with measures to improve medical conditions at regional trauma centers.
The move came after the public expressed outrage by the working conditions of Lee Cook-jong, head of the trauma center at Ajou University Hospital, who has been treating a North Korean defector with multiple gunshots during the dramatic fleeing through the Joint Security Area to the South.
Vice Minister of Health and Welfare Kwon Deok-cheol told reporters that he ordered ministry officials to find out what kind of issues regional trauma centers have.
“The ministry will thoroughly review all of the aspects, including medical charges, reimbursement criteria, and evaluation criteria,” Kwon said.
Jin Young-joo, director of the Emergency Healthcare Division, also said he received the order from the vice minister, explaining to reporters that the ministry will collect opinions from the Korean Society of Traumatology and regional trauma centers about unreasonable conditions at the trauma centers.
“After collecting opinions, we will make every effort to quickly improve medical charges, reimbursement criteria, and evaluation criteria, so that regional trauma centers can actively operate,” Jin added.
The ministry’s move was apparently pushed by Lee, who rapped problems in running trauma centers, during a media briefing Wednesday, following accusations by a lawmaker that Lee’s revealing of the North Korean defector’s condition was an “act of terror” against the defector’s human rights.
Despite ridiculously low medical charges and budget cuts on trauma centers, the reason Korea could sustain short-staffed trauma centers was that trauma surgeons and medical staffs have worked to secure the “golden time” to save lives.
Lee pointed out the current trauma centers in Korea are neither sustainable nor future-oriented.
In an Ajou University newsletter in September, Lee complained of his miserable situation. “I treated patients by the rules, used medicine and device by the rules, and had operations based on necessity. But I became a monster who was to blame for the school’s annual loss of 1 billion won ($910,000) in the professor evaluation on medical care,” Lee wrote.
Alerted by Lee’s remarks, the public is demanding the government to improve the trauma treatment system.
On Cheong Wa Dae’s homepage, more than 170,000 Koreans have signed on the online petition for “additional, systemic, environmental, and human supports for regional trauma centers, including Professor Lee Cook-jong,” as of 10 a.m. Friday.
In the end, Lee, who became a symbolic figure in major trauma care, and the general public have moved the government to take actions.
The ministry selected 16 regional trauma centers from 2012 to 2016. Among them, nine are in operation now. In December, the ministry plans to designate a trauma center in South Gyeongsang Province, the only area where no trauma center exists.
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