By Michelle Fe Santiago
As Posted in Arab Times
THE Kuwait Ministry of Health (MoH) is performing a system-wide restructuring of public health care delivery services as well as raising the standards of public health care in its various government hospitals to be at par with other global medical institutions.
In line with the country’s move of upgrading the public health care systems, some of the public hospitals are undergoing renovation and expansion. Some new hospitals are being constructed, the biggest of which is the Sheikh Jaber Medical City in South Surra named in honour of the late Amir HH Sheikh Jaber Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah. The Sheikh Jaber Medical City will be the largest medical centre in the State of Kuwait which will include four buildings with a total area of 469,370 square metres.
The expansion and construction of new hospitals will naturally call for more health workers who will be mostly expatriates. The expected influx of expat health workers poses a big challenge to the Housing Department at the Ministry of Health to support the housing needs and services of the health workers.
Mohammad Hajji Abdulhadi, the Housing Manager for the Capital and Hawally governorates at the Ministry of Health, in this interview provides an overview on the operations of the Ministry of Health housing, services, demands and challenges that the housing department has to face amid the ongoing restructuring and expansion of the public health sector.
Question: Can you kindly brief us about your job designation and the duties that go with it?
Answer: I am the Housing Manager of the Ministry of Health in the Capital and Hawally governorates. I also supervise now the Al Sabah area and they’re also planning to give to me the Al Ahmadi area. I manage and take care of the housing of health workers at the Ministry of Health who work in various hospitals such as doctors, nurses, laboratory technicians, physical therapists and pharmacists. There are a total of six areas and the MoH assigns a Housing manager per area.
Q: Per area, how many buildings usually house the health workers from the Ministry of Health?
A: From my area alone, I’m handling around 25 buildings for male and female health workers in the Capital and Hawally governorates but we are expecting that the housing needs will increase in the coming years with all the ongoing expansion and construction of public hospitals and other health facilities in Kuwait.
Q: How do you distribute or assign the health workers in their accommodation? Can they choose their own accommodation?
A: The system goes like this. A particular public hospital does the requisition, for instance, the Amiri Hospital will request for 20 nurses from the Ministry of Health. As soon as the request is approved the MoH will inform the Housing Department of the requirements so we can prepare the housing for the 20 nurses as soon as they arrive in Kuwait. We are the last in the hierarchy because we are the ones who welcome and receive the expat health workers to the new home here in Kuwait.
Q: What’s the procedure that you follow in assigning a particular health worker to his or her accommodation?
A: The accommodation assignment will depend on the proximity to the hospital or clinic that the nurse or lab technician or any health worker is assigned to for easy access. For instance, those working in the Mubarak Al Kabeer hospital or nearby clinic, they should be given an accommodation in Jabriya, Hawally or Salmiya so they can be picked up by the Ministry of Health bus or transport easily. However in the case of those working in the Capital area, there are no accommodation buildings in the area so we place them in Salmiya, Maidan Hawally, Hawally or Jabriya.
Q: How does a typical accommodation look like? Is it fully furnished?
A: We always want to give the best housing services and amenities to our health workers. We want them to be at home and be relaxed after a stressful day at the hospital or clinic. We usually assign four in each flat that is fully furnished like a hotel complete from spoons, forks, plates, kitchen set, bedroom set, furniture set to TV set. Each flat usually has two rooms with two toilets and bathrooms. Each room will have two occupants. But sometimes if the flat is a bit smaller from the regular size then we just assign two or three occupants so they will be more comfortable. We always think of their comfort first.
Q: How many health workers are staying in the accommodations under your areas now?
A: My section is taking care of the housing needs of around 2,000 to 2,500 health workers but as I’ve said earlier, we are expecting the number to increase in the coming year or years and that’s what we are preparing for now.
Q: The health workers are of various nationalities, how do you assign them in each flat? Do you have a mix of different nationalities?
A: We all know that the health workers coming from different countries are basically good people and they are all professionals but as I’ve been saying, we all want them to be very comfortable and to make their life easy so we assign them according to their nationality per flat and per building. We don’t mix nationalities to avoid problems. We all know that there are some cultural differences on the food, way of life and other things. So what we do, we put all Filipinos in one building, Indians in one building as well as Arabs in one building. We assign all Egyptians in one flat, Syrians in one flat, so on and so forth. In that way, they can co-exist harmoniously. Though, there are a few instances that a flat has some occupants with different nationalities who have become friends. I do receive a few requests like this one but most of the time, they want to be with their own compatriots. Whatever they request as long as it is within the bounds of law, we give it to them.
Q: Do you impose any curfew to those staying in MoH accommodations?
A: Yes, for safety reason we have a curfew set at 10 pm for ladies and 11 pm for men. They have to abide by this for their own safety.
Q: What are the other housing rules that the health workers have to follow?
A: There are a lot of basic housing rules and one of the things that I always stress out to them is to inform my office whenever they go on leave or vacation for safety reason. We want to know their whereabouts so we can be sure that they’re safe. Each building has its supervisor who will oversee the housing needs of the health workers staying in that building. One more thing, once they leave Kuwait for good, they have to get from us a clearance certificate that everything in the accommodation is in order for inventory purposes. In the beginning, we are the last in the hierarchy when they’re newly hired but when they leave their job at the MoH, we are the first one to clear them so they will be allowed to leave the Ministry and exit the country. Without our clearance, they cannot get their indemnity and other benefits and will not be allowed to leave the country.
Q: Have you ever faced some problems with the occupants in the MoH housing?
A: Thank God! We don’t encounter serious problems with the health workers. Sometimes, it’s inevitable that some arguments or disagreements happen and when they come to my office we try to sort this out like friends. We deal with them like friends with an open line of communication. Example, one of the workers will complain that his or her flat mate is too noisy or he or she cooks food that stinks. These are simple issues that can be resolved easily as long as there’s no violence or physical fighting involved. So far in my 20 years at work, I haven’t encountered such a serious problem.
Q: If something gets broken or damaged like a washing machine, microwave oven, TV set or other stuff in the accommodation, how do you address this problem?
A: As long as the damage on the appliance or furniture was not done deliberately then we will replace it in a week’s time. They just have to inform me or my staff and we will forward the request to the Ministry and usually it is approved easily in a week’s time. We don’t want our health worker’s comfortable life be disrupted just because the washing machine broke down. We want to make their life smooth and easy. We even provide them with all the beddings, comforters, blankets, pillows and everything that they need so they can sleep soundly at night.
Q: How often do you receive a request for a replacement of appliance or furniture?
A: Not that much. We usually receive an average of 7 to 8 requests per day but surprisingly during summer, we receive more requests, about 10 or more. I don’t know why. Maybe because of the hot weather.Then during winter, we get 4 to 5 requests per day and we act on them immediately.
Q: What are the preparations being made by the Ministry of Health now to accommodate the influx of health workers with the upcoming completion of the Sheikh Jaber Medical City?
A: The Sheikh Jaber Al Ahmad Medical City in South Surra will be the biggest hospital once finished and the medical facility will need more than 1,000 medical staff. If things go as planned, they say the hospital will be done in two years’ time, Inshaallah. As early as now, we are already preparing for that. I have already met with the MoH officials on this. I told them that we would be needing around 10 more new buildings in Salmiya, Farwaniya and Hawally because South Surra is between Farwaniya and Salmiya. We have to get new buildings near the hospital area for easy accessibility. I’m helping them scout for nice buildings.
Q: Some MoH accommodations have old buildings. What’s the duration of each building contract?
A: The Ministry of Health usually signs a five-year contract for each building and after five years, they have the option to renew it. Under my areas, we have already cancelled the contracts with the old buildings and we all have new buildings now for the MoH accommodations.
Q: As Housing Manager, what are the challenges that you have to face?
A: So far, we’re all doing good at this time and everything is manageable with the 10 staff that I have. But before, we only have five staff and it was very difficult to handle all the office operations and address the housing needs of the health workers. I just hope that once the Sheikh Jaber Medical City will be open, we will need 10 more staff. I have already sent this request to the Ministry. I need to have at least 10 more staff because will have 10 additional buildings to accommodate the influx of health workers who will be assigned at the Sheikh Jaber Medical City in South Surra. I’m very happy because my staff are all educated and they have good interpersonal and public relations with the health workers. They speak English so communication is made easier for everyone. For one to deliver efficient and quality services, a good open line of communication is of prime importance.
Q: What else do you think needs to be improved on the housing services being provided by the Ministry of Health to the health workers?
A: There are a lot of things to be improved but I’m glad that the Kuwait government alongside the Ministry of Health is working on how to make things better for everyone. As I’ve mentioned earlier, the accommodations are now in new buildings and furnishings are much better. But one of my suggestions that I have lobbied for a long time now is that, it would be best if they construct the accommodations beside or adjacent to the hospital so it would be more convenient for the health workers. They can just walk and no need for a bus or car. Transport time usually takes around 45 minutes to and from the hospital and accommodation. One more thing, in case of any emergency, the hospital can easily contact the health workers who live just beside or across the hospital. The Ministry of Health is now studying my proposal. I hope it will be translated to reality. For now, my staff and I will continue to provide the best housing services to all the health workers under our area. We want them to be happy because if they are happy, then they can also deliver the best services in the hospital. Happiness and contentment will always bring out the best result in everything. We want them to have the best home away from home.