San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

The strike is over: government, doctors reach deal

A 14-day doctors strike ended Friday evening after negotiators from Costa Rica’s Social Security System agreed to doctors’ demands for better working conditions and extra vacation days.

According to the agreement, Caja officials promised to repair hospital operating rooms that doctors say have become unsanitary and unsafe. Anesthesiologists will also be given extra vacation days, according to a sliding scale based on the number of hours on the job. None of the doctors who went on strike will be punished for their actions.

Doctors say they will reschedule within the next six months the thousands of surgeries canceled due to the strike. Also, two anesthesiologists – Esteban Salas and Daniel Masís – who were fired for participating in the strike will be rehired.

“An agreement has been signed that ends the medical strike. No more patients will be turned away. Responsibility and solidarity has been fostered,” President Laura Chinchilla said in a statement.

Before the agreement, more than 20,000 appointments and at least 3,000 surgeries were canceled.

Anesthesiologists began the strike after Caja officials did not implement a 2009 deal to improve the infrastructure of operating rooms across the country. The previous agreement also called for vacation days to reduce work hazards such as exposure to potentially harmful gases, including nitrous oxide.

The Caja’s decision to fire anesthesiologists last week prompted other doctors to join the strike. Representatives from the National Medical Union – the country’s largest public doctors union – took over negotiations with Caja board members.

According to the union, 80 percent of union members, or 3,000 doctors, went on strike this week. Caja officials stated that only a few hundred doctors had participated. Still, the threat of the work stoppage was enough to send government officials scrambling.

President Laura Chinchilla announced Tuesday that anesthesiologists from Mexico would be flown in to fill the empty posts. But that controversial move never materialized. Hours of negotiations Friday finally paid off around 7 p.m.

A day that began with an estimated 400 physicians waving Costa Rican flags outside Caja headquarters in downtown San José, demanding the ouster of Caja Executive President Ileana Balmaceda, ended with a deal that satisfied both parties, although the ultimate agreement ended up being primarily what the anesthesiologists asked for back in 2009. 

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