The incident of two Brazilians posing as doctors in a hospital in Cañuelas, located about an hour’s drive from the city of Buenos Aires, has led many to reflect on structural issues within the healthcare system in the Buenos Aires province that allowed fake medical professionals to practice undetected for so long.
One key factor that contributed to the scandal is the scarcity of healthcare providers in the Buenos Aires province, especially in the extensive pampa region. The high demand for doctors made it easier for the two Brazilians, who had been impersonating real healthcare professionals, to begin work at the Cañuelas hospital with little scrutiny. This shortage is especially prevalent in terms of general practitioners, doctors who are flexible and focus on a wide variety of areas, including clinical work, pediatrics, neonatology, and obstetrics, among other specialities.
The lack of doctors is a general trend in hospitals and health centers across the province due to a lack of resources and poor working conditions, and is especially severe in towns that are far from the urban centers, many of them with fewer than 3,000 inhabitants, and are not attractive options in which to practice medicine.
A significant factor behind the poor working conditions in provincial hospitals is a lack of public funding, which can force medical professionals to work in old facilities with declining infrastructure, which often experience issues with power and plumbing.
In 2016, the Buenos Aires Ministry of Health reported that there were 300 medical posts that were in “urgent” need of being filled in the province. The same report described that 57 hospitals in the province were in a “critical state” when it came to issues with their infrastructure, four of which were “completely destroyed and should be rebuilt.”
This same year, the Buenos Aires Ministry of Health began to institute a series of measures to make health centers and hospitals in the province more attractive to healthcare professionals. To do so, the Ministry signed an agreement with 50 municipalities, centered around granting a greater number of benefits to doctors who agreed to practice in the Buenos Aires province. These benefits, described by the Ministry as a “motivational package,” included housing, subsidized food, a salary boost, and even access to free social services.
However, in spite of raises and benefits, most Argentine doctors still flock to the city for the greater available resources and more convenient location. Health Ministry officials have also recognized that the benefits program will likely take some time to attract recruits, as it only went into effect two years ago and the training of a specialist requires at least four years in any residency program. Thus, in the almost 2,000 localities in provincial Buenos Aires towns with fewer than 3,000 inhabitants, there are at least 100 that still don’t have a permanent doctor.
The Health Ministry program, “I Want to be a Resident,” was recently initiated as a new solution to this long standing crisis. The plan adds a greater number of benefits to the current package that exists to motivate doctors to venture into the province. However, until hospital and health center infrastructure and working conditions are improved through greater public funding— so that medical professionals can operate with the best tools at their disposal to do their jobs— it is unlikely that we will see an influx of doctors to the province any time soon.