Exactly a year ago, the Minister of Universal Health of the Valencian Generalitat, Ana Barceló, anticipated an open secret. The regional government opened the process to reverse the concession of the Torrevieja health department (Alicante), which on Saturday October 16 will become public management, after finalizing the contract with the company that has managed it for 15 years, Torrevieja Salud . Now, 12 months later, the process has become the chronicle of a pitched battle between both parties. Barceló assures that Ribera Salud, the parent company that devised the public-private health concessions in the Valencian Community, has dismantled the hospital that heads the area and has not stopped obstructing the reversion procedures, for which it has not provided any information. The company has tried to stop the loss of the health center in court, repeatedly, without success. On the eve of the transfer, uncertainty continues to reign and demonstrates how complicated it is to dismantle the network of health concessions sponsored by the Popular Party.
Torrevieja is the second health department to return to public health after Alzira (Valencia), the hospital that gave its name to the concession model. Both reversals are part of the Botànic II program, the agreement that led to the presidency of the Generalitat to the PSOE with the support of Compromís and Podem. It stipulated “the recovery of privatized public services once the concession is over.” That of Alzira took place in March 2018 and Barceló’s balance sheet said that, a year later, jobs, investment in equipment and the provision of services grew. The one in Torrevieja comes now and, if there are no changes in the Valencian Executive, the same situation will foreseeably be repeated and successively in the Alicante departments of Dénia and Vinalopó (Elche), also managed by Ribera Salud. In the first two cases the same battlefield has been reproduced. The counseling is forced to develop the procedures outside the process because the company reserves all the information until the end. And the legal teams on both sides litigate relentlessly.
Health is forced to advance blindly and on the sidelines of the offices to know what it will find. Ribera Salud has not even provided a room inside the hospital to the commissioner, José Pérez, the figure that acts as a link between the Generalitat and private companies. And, according to union sources who prefer to remain anonymous, what they will find is a “chaotic situation.” Of the approximately 1,600 workers who provided service in the hospital and health centers scattered throughout 100 municipalities in the Vega Baja region, south of Alicante, 200 eventuals terminated their contracts on September 30 and were not renewed. “And this October 15 we foresee that many others will be dismissed,” the sources consulted predict. Last Wednesday, the council began to call potential employees who must cover the losses that occur, to guarantee care for a population estimated at 180,000 people.
Those who have a contract in force have had to provide their data to the commissioner in hand, in a rented office in Torrevieja. “The council asked the works council to inform the workers to deliver their documentation,” say union sources, in order to process their payroll and jobs. “From June until today,” they continue, “employees have had to provide their professional category credentials, their ID, their working life and even bank details so that they can enter their payroll.” The process was slow and tortuous, since Ribera Salud has done everything possible to maintain control of the health area. But everything changed on September 28, when the Superior Court of Justice of the Valencian Community (TSJCV) endorsed the procedure undertaken by Health to take the reins of Torrevieja. It was the fifth time that it validated both the termination of the contract and the rules established for the reversion. “That day, the staff calmed down,” say the sources, “because until then they did not know if the company would continue to lead.”
Also from that day on, the hierarchy of the hospital began to move. It was even said that 17 heads of service had left the health center. In reality, most of them provided services both in Torrevieja and in the Vinalopó Hospital, a measure with which the company reduced costs. They are “the synergies”, according to the union name. “Some were neither heads of service, but external workers of specialties that did not exist in the Torrevieja portfolio and who charged for each assistance”. After the TSJCV car, “some are going to stay,” they confirm.
In an appearance before the media on October 8, Ana Barceló also denounced the “dismantling” of the facilities. And he pointed out that a computerized axial tomography (CT) team whose “renting or leasing“Had finished” was going to continue “in the center. The sources consulted indicate that the endowment is not depleted and that stores in the center, such as the pharmacy, are still assorted.
However, part of the services have been closed. “In the last 15 days”, they explain, “a General Surgery plant has been closed, with 30 beds, half a floor shared by Pediatrics and Maternity, with 10 beds, and three boxes of the 18 that were in the ICU”, which came to have 21 at the height of the covid. They also maintain that “they have closed appointments and have reduced outpatient consultations, the scheduled activity of the operating room and the staff of the emergency room to a minimum.”
Meanwhile, Ribera Salud, who has just denounced Health to the Civil Guard for alleged illegal access to its computer system from the commissioner’s office, has presented its numbers this Thursday and qualifies the department that it must deliver as “the best of the Valencian Community according to the official data of the Generalitat ”. In the opinion of José David Zafrilla, manager of the area, the concession “ends with excellent healthcare and management indicators”, which shows, in his opinion, that reversals such as Alzira’s are “a real failure”, with “the worsening of the service, the increase in waiting lists, the deterioration of infrastructures and a bad work environment ”.
The Alzira model started in 1997 with the works of the hospital in the municipality that gives it its name, promoted by the PP then led by Eduardo Zaplana. It is based on an administrative concession whereby a company builds and manages the sanitary facilities and hires a staff that is not part of the administration staff. In return, they receive a canon, the capita, stipulated based on the population served. This model was imported by Esperanza Aguirre to Madrid, a community in which Ribera Salud continues to run the Torrejón Hospital. It also manages centers in Galicia, Extremadura, Murcia and, outside of Spain, in Peru.