- On Partnership
Recently, Bayalpata Hospital, in the rural district of Achham, Nepal almost collapsed under the weight of its own staff's discontent. The hospital had been largely abandoned until 2009 when our organization, Nyaya Health, renovated and opened it in partnership with the Nepali government. Since then, the hospital has seen great progress and has experienced widespread community support. Nonetheless, earlier this year, a broad-based staff revolt occurred, led primarily by our senior clinical staff members, raising concerns that Nyaya's management policies were ineffective, and wages and benefits were too low. The unrest included everything from a strike, limiting services to our patients, to aggression against non-strikers and slander and racist comments in public media against the Nyaya Health Board of Directors. Ultimately, the conflict was resolved, though not without the departure of our three most senior clinicians. The incident deeply damaged staff morale [End Page 101] and impeded basic services to our patients, and from our perspective as a leadership and management team, it was deeply troubling and spiritually challenging. We have learned much in the wake of the strike, but here we focus more narrowly on the concept of partnerships in our work by examining the recent strike and the two key issues that lead to it: wages and benefits, and management policies at Bayalpata Hospital.
In grappling with the recent staff crisis, some of our leadership team expressed concerns that we would never be able to develop a true partnership in Achham if our senior-level employees led strikes against the organization. The leaders of the strike were our most well-educated and high-ranking staff. They were also individuals who had come to work for us specifically citing the moral imperative of our work, and their pride in helping to serve the poorest of the poor. One leadership team member asked, "What is 'partnership' then? We came into this work with the premise that we would work together, with our partnership built around the right to health—but who are our partners if they lead strikes damaging the very services our collective mission aims to offer?"
Another leadership team member commented, "The first time I visited Achham I was invited for tea at Meena's* house (one of Nyaya's midwives). We arrived at her house and Meena greeted us warmly. She showed us in to a small room: there was no furniture, but there was an immaculately swept mat which we joined her on. We drank tea, seated on her rug, and listened to her tell us how she had come to live in the house, how she had come to work for Nyaya, and her pride in now being able to provide both for her own children, as well as, the children of her relatives. As the only employed family member, she now had the challenge of providing for all of them. When we question our partnership, I'm taken back to Meena's warm, but extremely poor, home. She has worked for Nyaya for almost four years. She has helped our organization provide free care to over 75,000 people. Is this not a type of 'partnership'?"
Allow us to offer some background on the issue of wages—Meena has been with our team since 2008, and has been paid about $2,500 per year—a generous wage compared to other employers in the region. Meena was one of the striking staff members. Among other concerns about the way the hospital was being run, she and other staff asked indignantly why we couldn't provide them with higher wages, better benefits, and more resources, both for her and the hospital. Notably, Meena's salary (and the rest of our staff's) was well above her equivalent in other, more urban hospitals (to compensate for the extremely remote area in which we work), and in a district where most families are farmers, our staff's salaries occupy the highest income bracket in the region. Nonetheless, as is common throughout the world in both rich and poor areas...