Health Dept. Owes Back Pay to Surgery Residents
Some 20 Physicians at Ponce’s San Lucas Hospital Affected
SAN JUAN – About 20 surgery residents of the San Lucas Hospital in Ponce showed up at the Department of Health offices in Río Piedras Thursday morning to demand payment of back wages and scholarships granted by the government to complete their residency.
Despite the Puerto Rico government having indicated that it seeks by all means to prevent the flight of talent from the island, especially from the healthcare sector, the truth is that the delay in paying these surgery residents significantly affects these professionals who have decided to stay and support the island during critical times.
As explained to Caribbean Business by Sheila Pérez, a fourth-year surgery resident at the hospital, during their visit to the Health Department, the medical graduates were able to speak with one of the agency’s officials, who blamed bureaucracy for the payment delay.
“What they did was explain to us the bureaucratic process that exists regarding the salary paid to residents and that thanks to that documents have been lost and checks are not issued,” said Pérez, who served as the group’s spokesperson. “They told us that they are trying to create a digital platform so that this does not happen, but they cannot guarantee that this will not happen again next year.”
Pérez said many ideas were discussed during the meeting to solve the matter, which barely lasted an hour. Still, the agency could not guarantee that another delay would not occur again.
“The health official was unaware that the procedure for us was to bring the documents personally. She thought they were sent and got lost on the way,” the resident said.
“We are paying for the administrative ineptitude of the Health Department and the Treasury, because our salary is divided in two, a stipend that the Health Department gives us and a grant for books and diet that the Treasury Department gives us,” she explained.
Pérez said that the Health Department attributes the 10-week delay to a communication issue between that agency and the Treasury. However, the Health Department could not guarantee a prompt solution to the problem.
The surgeon also said that the only solution offered by the Health Department was for the physicians themselves to arrange for the San Lucas Hospital to assume their payment, and the government would then reimburse those funds.
“What they propose is that we speak with the San Lucas Hospital, which is a private entity—and we are not employees of that hospital but of the Health Department—and that it pay us and they reimburse it. San Lucas has no duty to do this; if they want to do it out of good will, it is their business, but they are under no obligation,” Pérez added.
The medical graduates added that some of the residents who make less have now been partially paid.
The Health Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the matter.