Let’s Tune In To The EU’s Periphery: Romania’s Scandal Prone Healthcare System 

Nicholas Zalewski
Emergency room of St. Spiridon Hospital in Iasi, Romania. Source: Adevarul

Doctor Steals Medical Devices From The Dead

Seeking medical assistance can be intimidating for anyone. This is particularly true for Romanians, whose healthcare system has had yet another scandal. The latest involves a doctor who would harvest medical devices from the bodies of the recently deceased in order to reimplant them in people still living. Prosecutors are currently investigating Dan Tesloianu, who was a cardiologist at St. Spiridon hospital in Iasi, a northwestern Romanian city. The reuse of medical devices is prohibited under Romanian law, regardless of whether or not the deceased people gave permission or not. This scandal can be wide-reaching due to Tesloianu having implanted 4,000 pacemakers over his more than 20-year career. Tesloianu also faces accusations that he prescribed medication in order to manipulate people’s heartbeats to convince them that they needed a pacemaker.  

Tesloianu’s lawyer has spoken on his behalf and argues that by reimplanting medical devices, Tesloianu saved lives. People unable to afford new devices were still able to receive potential life-saving devices, simply not brand-new devices. His lawyer also argued that international treaties allow medical devices taken from the deceased to be reused. A problem for Tesloianu, however, is that if prosecutors have evidence he prescribed medicine to make it appear that patients needed a medical device, Tesloianu will appear much less like a doctor concerned for the less fortunate. He further loses credibility if prosecutors will be able to prove the allegations true in court that patients were charged 2,000-3,000 euros for used devices. The reason this price point is controversial is that with that amount of money, the patients could have bought new devices.  

There is evidence to support that it is possible to reuse implanted medical devices. A study conducted in Mexico confirms that used pacemakers that have been sterilized, can be safely implanted into patients who cannot afford new devices. The problem is, however, that this remains illegal under Romanian national law, whether or not it is possible. At St. Spiridon hospital where Tesloianu worked, Prosecutors confirmed that new medical devices are clearly marked as single-use only, and they are unable to be sterilized in order to be reused.  

Cardiologist Dan Tesloianu who has been taken into custody. Source: ziarulevenimentul

 Other Scandals Affecting Healthcare System
Reusing medical devices is not the first scandal to shake the Romanian healthcare system. In 2015, 26 people died in a Bucharest nightclub fire. An additional 38 individuals would perish due to lies told by the healthcare system to concerned parents of the nightclub fire victims. The Romanian Minister of Health was accompanied by doctors in front of one of Bucharest’s main hospitals declaring that those injured were receiving treatment in a very modern burn unit. The problem, however, was that the burn unit at the hospital where the Minister of Health spoke was closed. No surgeries were conducted in that ward at that time. This deceit from the government caused 38 additional deaths due to the severely injured victims not getting proper medical attention. The scandal inspired a documentary entitled “collective” which was nominated for two Oscars.
Adding to the problems the healthcare system must address are fires that occurred in Covid-19 hospitals during the pandemic. Romania has had four fires during the pandemic in Covid-19 hospitals, the last thing a nation needs when already combatting a pandemic. In 2016, the healthcare system was hit by yet another scandal when it was discovered that Hexi Pharma, a pharmaceutical company, distributed diluted disinfectant cleaning products to over 350 hospitals. The products were also discovered at 24 blood donation centers. It was later discovered that the concentration of disinfectants was not reviewed for over ten years. This is why it should not be surprising that Romania has the highest rate of infections acquired in hospitals in all of Europe (not just the European Union). Around 5 Romanians die every day because of these infections.

Staffing Shortages Worsen Problems For Healthcare System

Consistent public backlash and bad publicity due to these various controversies have contributed to the healthcare system’s staffing shortage. Part of the problem is that the Ministry of Health is failing to advertise available jobs in hospitals it owns. Between 2014 and 2021, 83 percent of open positions in Ministry of Health-owned hospitals were not advertised. This is a grave error considering that wages have tripled since 2014. By not heavily publicizing these options, Romania risks the loss of more doctors moving abroad in search of higher wages. Between 2007 and 2019, 43,000 doctors emigrated from Romania, and 26 percent of all positions were doctors were vacant as well. This is partially the result of many parts of Romania struggling economically, and because of Romania’s EU member state status. Romanians have the right to live and work in any EU member state as part of the bloc’s free movement of workers. Considering wages on average in Romania are the second lowest and only ahead of Bulgaria, many have chosen to leave.  This, however, means that the doctors who remain must work even harder in order to compensate for the inadequate number of doctors.

Romania’s healthcare system woes will not be solved overnight, nor will other challenges the nation currently faces. The government needs to be able to regain the trust of citizens that politicians will genuinely act in good faith on behalf of Romanians in order to improve the nation moving forward. Romania must also address its limited spending on healthcare, the lowest in the EU according to Eurostat. The European Union is willing to offer help, but Romania needs to consider it and act quickly. No new government-owned hospital has been built since the fall of communism in 1989, despite the EU offering 170 million dollars for construction costs.

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Let’s Tune In To Th…

by Nicholas Zalewski time to read: 4 min