Top Virologist Mulls Quitting as Minister Alleges COVID Fund Misuse
Director of the Tbilisi Hospital of Infectious Diseases, Tengiz Tsertsvadze, one of the figures leading Georgia’s pandemic response is pondering resignation following comments by Health Minister Zurab Azarashvili accusing clinics of misuse of COVID funds.
“Unfortunately, cases were identified, during the COVID pandemic, where doctors and nurses did not receive the supplemental funds which were allocated for them,” Minister Azarashvili alleged on April 27.
“There were cases in several clinics, where the director and deputies were increasing their salaries by 5-10, at the cost of the supplemental funds for doctors/nurses and the state budget,” he added.
Minister Azarashvili asserted that clinics used to artificially inflate the number of patients by skirting the hospitalization and discharge rules, resulting in the government having to fund extra beds.
He said some 40% of COVID beds — each costing the state GEL 180 (USD 60) — remained empty over the past two years.
The Minister also said in total, the state allocated GEL 1 billion (USD 330 million) to clinics as part of its COVID response.
“If someone committed a crime, the issue of their responsibility will arise. Here we are talking about specific clinics,” Azarashvili warned, but refrained from naming any of the hospitals.
“It is impossible, and unacceptable in principle, for the state to enrich certain clinics at the expense of its budget and citizens,” he concluded.
Deputy Health Minister Ilia Gudushauri confirmed that the state is actively monitoring clinics and will follow with harsh measures if necessary.
“They have been informed of the specific problems which have been identified at their clinics. In the event that mistakes are not corrected or there are other irregularities, there will be an appropriate response, be it suspension of license or stricter measures,” Deputy Gudushauri promised.
Top Virologist Responds
In response to the allegations Tsertsvadze, who was tasked with designing the country’s protocol against COVID, said yesterday in a Facebook post that he was considering his resignation being “deeply hurt and offended by the unjust, utterly untrue, and baseless accusations leveled against me (and not only me) in recent days.”
“In particular they have tried to accuse me of collaborating with others to misappropriate the 1 billion GEL allocated for COVID management,” in Tsertsvadze’s lengthy, starkly-worded statement.
Earlier rumors disseminated in the media had claimed that Tsertsvadze had already handed in his resignation to Health Minister Azarashvili.
The controversy comes amid a push from the Georgian Government for clinics to reorganize and return to their pre-pandemic routine.
Levan Gopodze, Director of the Central Republican Hospital which had one of the busiest COVID programs and is currently restructuring, also left his position on May 3, although he told RFE/RL Georgia that he left of his own volition for health reasons.
Minister Azarashvili is a relatively new appointee to the position of Minister of Health, replacing Ekaterine Tikaradze in December 2021 after she unexpectedly resigned.
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