Ramona Petraviča: The minister is forced to run after and jump on a moving train
The opinion that the ministry headed by R. Petraviča, who is both a deputy of the Saeima and a minister, does not cope with his duties, has been heard in the society for a long time. It is also confusing that R. Petraviča has not given up the mandate of a deputy to devote all his time and energy to the duties of a minister, even in the difficult circumstances of an emergency.
Until recently, this dissatisfaction in society and among the coalition partners slowly slowed down. After requesting the resignation of Ilze Hänķe from the position of the Minister of Health, K. Kariņš, explaining why the request for the resignation of R. Petraviča is not relevant at the moment, even pointed to her merits in fighting for the necessary funds for the industry.
However, then (20.01.21) the New Conservative Party issued a public announcement that it was considering requesting the resignation of R. Petraviča.
“We have seen experts who have pointed out a number of things that need to be done to limit Covid-19 in nursing homes, but this is not happening, but instead we have been hearing various reservations for months,” accusing inaction and warning of resignation, if the situation does not improve rapidly, said Conservative board member Gatis Eglītis. The Conservatives’ opinion did not change much even after R. Petraviča on Monday presented the party’s Saeima faction with the plans developed by the ministry.
The Prime Minister also seems to have begun to question the ability of R. Petraviča to head the Ministry of Welfare, as on January 22 he informed the public that he would appeal to the State Audit Office to check whether the Ministry of Welfare had done everything possible rehabilitation institutions.
“It is necessary to be sure that the measures implemented so far to prevent and limit the spread of Covid-19 among the clients and employees of these institutions during the second wave of the disease have been appropriate, timely and effective, as well as how effective the MoW has been in the industry. leading national regulatory authority. I believe that it would be useful for the State Audit Office to be involved in assessing this situation, ”K. Kariņš points out.
It is being criticized that nothing is being done in the nursing homes run by the Ministry of Welfare to limit the spread of Covid-19, and the ministry in charge of certain jobs – and therefore you – is just making reservations. What exactly prevents the ministry and you from taking the necessary measures to control the disease?
The Ministry of Welfare and I, as a minister, have been involved in limiting the spread of the virus since the end of February, when a state of emergency had not yet been declared in Latvia. Strict epidemiological safeguards were put in place and, although they were relaxed, we remained fairly strict in the summer. In the autumn, we followed the situation step by step and improved the epidemiological safety measures. Since December, the situation in social care centers has deteriorated, similarly to the whole of Latvia. Therefore, during the last month, we have identified problems and will supplement the measures with new actions – some of which have already been decided by the Cabinet of Ministers and procurement procedures have been launched.
Until now, employees have undergone so-called saliva tests twice a week. We now have the opportunity to start regular Covid-19 antigen tests (express tests) in institutions where the result is immediately visible (not as saliva tests that require a laboratory result). The use of such tests is currently being introduced in public social care centers. This has made it possible to quickly eliminate the first cases of the disease (these are 3 cases). At present, the agency of the Ministry of Defense has already started the procurement procedure in order to ensure the purchase of these tests for other social care centers as soon as possible. It should be noted that this will also be a step ahead of the European guidelines, where there is a discussion about the wider use of these express tests for security purposes.
Last week, it was decided to provide funding and purchase a centralized pulse oximeter for all social care centers, which will allow to determine the level of oxygen saturation in the blood. This would be a preventive measure for the timely identification of health risks to clients.
Although we have very close cooperation with the responsible ministries, local governments, the Center for Disease Prevention and Control from day one, I see the need to improve it. We have established a more efficient information flow system between different institutions – for example, by asking the responsible authorities to appoint a single contact person who regularly collects the latest information, monitors compliance with epidemiological safety requirements in the institution and immediately informs the ministry if the social care center cannot solve a problem. This will improve the speed of response, as well as ensure more successful testing screening and, in the future, vaccination.
We are seeing results from our activities: in January, these morbidity rates have improved, Covid-19 virus has not been detected in 57% of state and municipal care institutions (since the beginning of March until now). Covid-19 is detected in a timely manner in most institutions and its spread is immediately limited. Unfortunately, in some institutions, the disease has spread uncontrollably.
Has the Ministry of Welfare developed a vaccination plan for nursing home staff and residents?
Vaccination of staff and clients of these institutions, which is in Priority Group 2, is the most important measure to limit the spread of Covid-19 in social care centers (SACs) and in the country. A previous survey shows that almost most clients would be willing to get vaccinated. Currently, an important task is to identify all SACs and update information about employees and customers using the approach – want to be vaccinated / doubt / do not want, medically unstable.
Such a vaccination plan is prepared and updated together with the responsible Ministry of Health and social care centers, so that vaccination in social care institutions can be started immediately after the vaccination of doctors. The Ministry of Health predicts that it could start in the coming weeks.
In 2019, the State Audit Office (SAO) reported on the need to immediately reform the child rights protection system, but no SAO recommendations have yet been implemented. Why?
It is not true. The Ministry of Welfare has fully implemented seven of the 22 SAO recommendations for improving out-of-home care. The Ministry, in co-operation with the State Inspectorate for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (VBTAI), has fully implemented seven recommendations, the implementation of the remaining recommendations has been started and the implementation deadline has been extended. The implementation of the four recommendations is hindered by the evaluation of the Juvenile Support Information System, which will be completed in the 1st quarter of 2021, and a government information report will be provided. In order to implement the four recommendations, it is necessary to develop the VBTAI methodology.
We have requested an extension of the deadline for some of the recommendations of the State Audit Office (for example, Covid-19). In any case, we regularly discuss this issue with the new head of VBTAI, and I follow its progress.
It has been suggested that the meetings of the Cabinet of Ministers dedicated to Covid-19 crisis management be held in public. You support such an initiative, why?
As a Minister, I have no objection to such meetings being held in public, as was originally the case, but I will rely on the Prime Minister’s views and vision on this issue. In any case, it is a good practice that a press conference is held immediately after the sitting of the Cabinet of Ministers, where the most important is reported, substantiating it.
According to the results of a survey conducted by SKDS, in December last year you were one of the most unpopular ministers (behind the Minister of Education and Science Ilga Šuplinska and the then Minister of Health Ilze Ņķele) in the government of Krišjānis Kariņš. What do you think is the basis of such a public assessment?
Prosperity is a very complex area that has not been properly organized in our country for a long time. As a result, the Minister of Welfare is forced to run after and jump on a moving train. In two years, I have been able to attract the largest increase in funding in recent years, which has improved the situation in many areas. However, I would like these improvements to be faster. We need to continue talking to partners in government and looking for solutions to increase the minimum income threshold. It is also important to increase the salaries of those working in social care, as well as to find the means to create a more effective support package for people with disabilities and those who care for them. Last year was the fastest indexation of pensions in recent years, but still pensions are much lower than seniors would be entitled to for their work.
This sector is one of the most demanding of budgetary resources, so any minister will also face challenges and unpopular decisions. In any case, over the last two years, we have taken a rapid course on streamlining many areas.