Our newspaper constantly informs readers about the progress of medical reform, starting from its first stage. Today, residents of Odesa not only see the advantages and disadvantages of reform, but also have many questions, the answers to which are difficult to find. The war has caused even more difficulties; in addition, some district publications closed down. Therefore, we took it upon ourselves to identify the main problems and try to find an algorithm to solve them.

“A year ago, Odesske Zhyttia  added four regional columns to the newspaper,” says Hennadii Chabanov, Editor-in-Chief of Odesske Zhyttia. “We have added the Odesa Oblast section to the website, where the materials of our regional journalists are published. We did it not just to discuss events in the most remote communities of the region, but to help solve urgent issues that concerned residents of the entire region. Our regional pages in Odesske Zhyttia became a replacement for those district newspapers that stopped operating.

Today, I can confidently say that more readers from the Odesa region have started viewing the website and the Facebook page. Starting from October 2023, we were in direct contact with the residents of the Balta and Reni communities for a month, focusing on issues in the field of medical care.”

So, how exactly has our work helped and continues to help the residents of the community?

Reni community: how we learned of problems with medical care

Let’s start with the fact that we did not want to guess; we asked the residents about the issues they found the most problematic.

The fact that health care problems affect each and every one was shown by a survey of the population on medical care, conducted by the editors in the two communities farthest from the regional center — those of Balta and Reni. Thus, in the Reni community, which includes seven villages and the city of Reni, about three hundred questionnaires were filled out in a matter of days.

Survey in Reni and Balta

We posted an eight-question form on the website of the publication, on the Facebook page, and distributed it to local groups on social networks. We also sent it to the principals of all schools in the Reni community, with a personal request to distribute it among teachers, technical staff, and parents of students. In this way, we got a wide social, age, and gender sample.

The survey showed that the initial plan of the health care department of the Odesa Military Regional State Administration regarding the reorientation of the Reni Hospital will cause problems for the majority of the population

The survey yielded unexpected results. For example, in the Reni community, 60% of respondents said that they had been treated at the Reni hospital during the year. 86% visited medical facilities during the year. So, it became obvious that the implementation of the initial plan of the Health Care Department of the Odesa Military Regional State Administration regarding the reorientation of the Reni Hospital into a branch of the Safiany Hospital, which is located 70 kilometers away, will cause problems for the majority of the population. Therefore, we noted that it was necessary to look for opportunities to provide second-level medical care directly in the community. In what way? And how can the newspaper help with it?

Our search for answers to questions and an algorithm of actions

A blitz interview was conducted within the framework of the grant. We heard a lot of positive feedback about the General Practice Service, whose work algorithm had already been learnt by the residents of Odesa Oblast. However, problems were also mentioned. In the Reni community, the location of the Service on the third floor of the building was cited as the main one.

Ihor Plekhov, the head of the community, in a telephone call with the newspaper, assured that in 2024, the issue of repairing the elevator will be considered. However, during a discussion at the meeting convened by the head of the community, another option was proposed: to place the General Practice Service on the first floor. For it not to remain unfulfilled, the newspaper decided to take the issue under their control.

Mayor of Reni Ihor Plekhov answers questions

In general, objective answers were given to all questions raised by community residents. For example, what is the algorithm for providing medical aid in the event of an injury, in cases where the ambulance does not come? How to get a referral to a polyclinic specialist without personally visiting a general practitioner?

After a series of publications, interviews with heads of medical institutions and the head of the community, council members joined the discussion. The conversation will continue

But the most important thing is that after a series of publications, interviews with heads of medical institutions and the head of the community, the conversation continued. The problems voiced by the newspaper attracted the attention of the members of the local council. They, as well as the residents of the city, met with Oleh Burlei, the director general of the Reni Hospital.

The grant program has been completed, but the issue is still relevant, in particular, the lack of funds. According to the results of 2023, the Reni Hospital did not manage to earn an amount sufficient to pay salaries under the medical guarantee program and through the provision of paid services. Due to delays in payments, part of the medical staff raises the question of dismissal at the end of the year. The critical situation is under the control of local self-government bodies, and an action algorithm is being developed.

Balta community: How a newspaper’s survey turned into a lively discussion on social networks

As well as in Reni, we conducted a survey in the Balta community, which included 33 villages and the city of Balta. 110 people filled out the questionnaire in two weeks. This is not much. But even this number of answers made it possible to highlight the most problematic issues, for example, lack of free medicines, equipment in wards, attitude of staff towards patients, provision of equipment, lack of pharmacies in villages, arrangement of ramps, and shortage of doctors.

We have published answers to all the most problematic questions pointed out to us by residents. Some of them gave impetus to a lively discussion

We presented the results to Serhii Mazur, the head of the Baltic community; Roman Katsmaza, director general of the municipal enterprise Balta Multidisciplinary Hospital; and Oleh Sokolov, representative of the government commissioner for the rights of persons with disabilities in the Odesa military administration. We have published the answers received by the newspaper. Some questions gave impetus to a lively discussion on the Odesske Zhyttia Facebook page.

Balta primary care, examination of residents in the village of Sinne

So, for example, after publications about the accessibility of services by a general practitioner, a resident of the community asked why the telephone at the Baltic Center of Primary Health Care was not operating. The problem was solved immediately: it turned out that the operators disconnected the phone when switching to IP telephony, and then forgot to connect it.

A separate issue that our publication follows is the provision of ramps in pharmacies and medical facilities. We are proud to state that after our publications, a new ramp was installed near an administrative service center. As for the availability of individual pharmacies, the management of the pharmacy network promised to install rails near the ramps by the end of the year.

From identifying a problem to finding a solution: our actions

Thanks to our publications, issues were voiced that, for example, the director general of the hospital had no idea about. This is, in particular, the absence of free medicines. When we shared patients’ complaints with him, he noted that he did not rule out a lack of integrity among the staff and emphasized the need to voice problems because the hospital administration was always open to communication. We hope that since we voiced the problem, the results of its solution will not have to wait long.

Thanks to our publications, issues were voiced that, for example, the director general of the hospital had no idea about

As for the shortage of doctors, which the interviewed residents of the community complained about, many consider the lack of housing for young specialists to be the reason. But, as it turned out, the community allocates official housing. The head of the community sees the problem in the fact that the system of repaying the budget does not work in universities. Currently, both we and the community have more information on this issue, but we still have to come to a decision. So, we will continue to take care of this issue so that it turns from a problem into an algorithm of actions, with deadlines and responsible parties.

The Balta Hospital purchased an Angiograph

Residents also raised the issue of an unsatisfactory condition of the hospital’s units. Currently, renovations are being completed in the therapeutic and surgical units. Next comes the intensive care and the delivery units.

Talking about the new equipment in the hospital, we provided step-by-step action algorithms for the residents on how to use new opportunities and also contacts of specialists

The Odesske Zhyttia newspaper also covered what kind of equipment the Balta Hospital recently purchased: residents should know this to receive quality services. So, we didn’t just write about equipment; instead, we provided step-by-step algorithms for community residents and also contacts of specialists. We are sure that it will definitely yield results.

Results obtained by our newspaper

“The discussion of medical care issues in the Balta and Reni communities on the regional pages of the Odesske Zhyttia newspaper caused great interest not only in the communities themselves, but also from the residents of other communities of the region and the city of Odesa,” emphasizes Natalia Dimcheva, the editor of the regional pages of the Odesske Zhyttia newspaper. After all, we respond to all appeals and questions of people, relying on comments and receiving consultations from specialists. We will keep in touch with readers even after the end of the project.”

“The Odesske Zhyttia Facebook page helped collect feedback from people from various villages and remote communities,” adds Tamila Terzian, SMM specialist of the Odesske Zhyttia publication. We made a commercial promotion of posts and questionnaires through social networks, and this gave us an opportunity to reach many people and learn about their thoughts and problems. Readers left comments under our posts and sent messages. Each message was processed, and each problem was separated from the others; nothing was lost.

In addition, through the published posts, Facebook provided an opportunity to understand the audience that primarily needed information on medical care, which we additionally took into consideration while working on the project. Of course, we will use this invaluable information for the publication in the future.”

Authors of the publication:

Antonina Bondareva, regional journalist of the Odesske Zhyttia publication in the Reni community;

Liubov Kuzmenko, regional journalist of the Odesske Zhyttia publication in the Balta community;

Natalia Dimcheva, editor of the regional pages of the Odesske Zhyttia publication

The publication was prepared with the support of the European Union. Its content is the sole responsibility of the Ukrainian Media Business Association and does not necessarily reflect the position of the European Union, thanks to whose financial support the project was implemented.