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Moscow’s plan to close hospitals and fire doctors threatens social welfare system

MOSCOW — As the city’s premiere public facility providing palliative care for patients suffering from late-stage cancer, multiple sclerosis and other serious illnesses, Hospital No. 11 is normally a placid place.

But in the past several weeks, it has become the epicenter of a fast-growing protest movement against cuts to public health services — steps that threaten to deliver the first major blow to the city’s social welfare system at a time when the country is in an economic crisis.

By early next year, Moscow plans to close 28 hospitals and clinics — almost a quarter of its inpatient facilities — and downsize several dozen other medical centers while reducing the city’s medical staff by as many as 10,000 positions. Doctors and nurses, who rarely speak out because they are government employees, staged protests twice last month. And opposition parties from across the political spectrum have joined the demonstrations, criticizing Moscow and Kremlin officials for poor planning and bad timing.

The overriding fear is that patients who depend on Moscow’s already-oversubscribed health-care system will find themselves shut out or forced to seek pricey alternatives to the free care Russians are guaranteed by law.

“We never had a lot of money in health care, but these changes are even worse because of the financial crisis,” said Olga Demicheva, an endocrinologist at Hospital No. 11. “The way they are doing this is criminal for the patients. For us, too, but especially for the patients.”

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