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Argentina: Demonstrations in the Borda Psychiatric Hospital

A peculiar kind of music festival took place on June 11, 2011, in the gardens of the neuropsychiatric hospital Borda, located in the neighbor of Barracas, Buenos Aires.

The festival, organized by a collective of associations linked to the hospital (the hospital-based radio La Colifata, the section 17 of the hospital and the association of defense of psychiatric patients Cooperanza [es]), aimed to collect clothes for the patients and interns, as gas has been cut in the hospital since the middle of April.

The blog Oniriciclos [es] spread the text of the convocation, which explains the purpose of the event:

A raíz de la falta de gas (más de 50 días), entre otras carencias, creemos que entre TODOS podemos hacer algo para sobrellevar la situación por la que está atravesando los internos del Hospital José T. Borda.

Following the lack of gas (more than 50 days), among other shortcomings, we believe that every one of us can do something to ease the situation that the patients of the hospital José T. Borda are going through.
Photo of the Borda psychiatric hospital by freelance photojournalist Francesco Pistilli, copyright Demotix (11/10/2008)

Photo of the Borda psychiatric hospital by freelance photojournalist Francesco Pistilli, copyright Demotix (11/10/2008)

The hospital, which currently accommodates around 700 patients affected by mental disorders, used to be the largest and most notable psychiatric hospital in Argentina. Yet in April of 2008, the Head of the City's government, Mauricio Macri, announced the construction of ten new psychiatric centers of confinement, and the closing down of the current neuropsychiatric centers.

The plan [es] was later abandoned and the City's government now rejects the allegation that it wanted to close down the Borda, as explained by Amie Tsang in the The Argentina Independent:

The government eventually withdrew its plans, perhaps as a result of protests and an adverse reaction from health officials and possibly because they came up against the economic crisis and had funding problems. The reasons remain unclear.

Indeed, on April 22 the hospital's staff and the city's Minister of Health, Jorge Lemus, signed a pact [es] with the trade unions of the medical sector binding him not to close down the hospital. Nevertheless, it seems that the situation in the hospital Borda has been deteriorating for the last three years, as, according to Amie Tsang:

Although the plans are no more, some have noticed a deterioration in the hospital in the last two years. Olivera has noticed that there are fewer patients and he hears that they increasingly end up in private clinics after being discharged from El Borda.

The blog SOS Caballito [es] shares the ‘SOS’ message of Norma Monardini, one of the members of the Borda's staff:

VECINOS Y AMIGOS: NUEVAMENTE LES PIDO AYUDA PARA SALVAR LOS HOSPITALES NEUROPSOQUIATRICOS. AHORA MACRI AND CO, ESTAN CONTRA EL HOSPITAL BORDA.

Neighbors and friends: I ask you for help again to save the neuropsychiaric hospitals. Now Macri and Co [Buenos Aires mayor] are against the hospital Borda.

In a similar way, Protagonistas [es] and other blogs, posts the story of Marcela Guzmán, a graduate in Occupational Therapy and member of the Borda's medical staff:

Hace 20 años que trabajo en el hospital Borda en el área de internación y nunca en este largo trayecto profesional me sentí tan impotente por no poder trabajar las actividades de la vida diaria (incumbencias de mi profesión) como desde el 20 de abril que cortaron el gas en el hospital. Los pacientes tienen frío, el edificio es muy grande, las salas dormitorio muy amplias, las ventanas no cierran herméticamente… Es muy dificultoso para los pacientes recibir un baño diario con agua caliente, en el Servicio donde trabajo no nos han puesto termotanque eléctrico, los pacientes se deben trasladar a un Servicio vecino…

It's been 20 years that I've been working in the hospital Borda in the section of confinement and I've never felt so helpless during that long career for not being able to carry out the daily activities (within my profession's province) as I am since the 20th of April, when they cut the gas in the hospital. The patients are cold, the building is huge, the dormitories are very vast, the windows don't close hermetically… It's very hard for the patients to receive a daily shower with hot water, in the unit where I work we don't have extra heaters, the patients have to be transferred to a nearby unit…
Photo of the hospital by freelance photojournalist Francesco Pistilli, copyright Demotix (11/10/2008)

Photo of the hospital by freelance photojournalist Francesco Pistilli, copyright Demotix (11/10/2008)

On May 23, the Association of Professionals of the Hospital Borda (Asociación de Profesionales del Hospital Borda) called for a “White March” of protest in downtown Buenos Aires. On its Twitter account (@AsocProfBorda), the Association denounces what they consider an attempt to close the Borda:

NO AL CIERRE DEL HOSPITAL PUBLICO. CONVOCAMOS A TODA LA CIUDADANIA A ACOMPAÑARNOS EN ESTA LUCHA CONTRA EL DETERIORO DE LA SALUD PUBLICA,

No to the closing of the Public hospital. We call all citizens to accompany us in that fight against the deterioration of public health.

Marcela Guzmán calls [es] for political action in response to the situation the hospital is going through:

Por qué un ciudadano que recurre a un Hospital Público para recibir atención o que se lo ” aloje” temporariamente debe soportar semejante maltrato ? El Dr Garralda y otros funcionarios del Gobierno de la Ciudad dicen que con la Marcha Blanca, las protestas y reclamos estamos haciendo “política”.Sí , la estamos haciendo. Yo pido que la hagan ellos, que tengan políticas comprometidas para una salud igualitaria , solidaria y digna para t@dos.

Why a citizen who goes to the Public Hospital to receive attention, or that the hospital is temporarily “admitting”, has to endure such a bad treatment? The Dr Garralda and the other members of the City's Government say that with the White March, the demonstrations and the claims, we are doing “politics”. Yes, we are doing politics. I ask them to do the same, to have policies committed with an egalitarian health, with solidarity and dignity for everyone.

On Twitter, reactions and stories about the Borda are mushrooming.

Maria Acatpicheu (@picheu) expresses her indignation:

Es una verguenza lo q pasa el hospital Borda!!! falta de todo x favor hagan algo las autoridades!!!!

What is going on in the hospital Borda is a shame!!! They lack everything, the authorities need to do something!!!!
Photo by freelance photojournalist Francesco Pistilli, copyright Demotix (11/10/2008)

Photo by freelance photojournalist Francesco Pistilli, copyright Demotix (11/10/2008)

Paula Siri (@Pauulasiri) shows her support to the staff and patients of the hospital:

”Hospital borda, 50 dias sin gas” en grave situación, necesitan apoyo de la comunidad.SI al hosp publico gratuito y solidario.

“Hospital Borda, 50 days without gas” in a terrible situation, they need the support of the community. Yes to the public hospital, free and with solidarity.

Mariano Onega (@marianoonega) prefers to tackle the topic with a touch of dark humour:

#Macri desmintió que quiera cerrar el Hospital Borda. Sólo le cambiaría su nombre uno más cool: “The crazy house”.

Macri denied he wanted to close the Hospital Borda. He'll just change its name to a cooler one: “The crazy house”.

At the heart of the conflict is the implementation of the Health Plan of Law 448, that was questioned in a 2009 report [es] released by a legislative commission of the Parliament. According to that report, the number of services in mental health (consultations and therapeutic practices) fell 16% in the last three years in the city of Buenos Aires.

For Maria, in the blog Arte y Política [es], the case of the hospital Borda is an example of the malfunctioning of the city's management:

¿Quienes són los que “más necesitan” del estado en la ciudad? ¿Qué podemos hacer para mejorar su vida, lo más rápido posible? ¿Cuáles son los saberes técnicos y las relaciones de poder políticas que harán posible llevar estos cambios a cabo? Estas son preguntas sustantivas y concretas, con respuestas sustantivas y concretas… Los que más necesitan son, por ejemplo, los enfermos del Borda, que están sin gas hace un mes.

Who are the ones that need the government more in the city? What can we do to improve their life, as soon as possible? What are the technical skills and the political relations that would make it possible to achieve these changes? These are substantive and concrete issues, with substantive and concrete answers… The ones in need are, for instance, the patients of the Borda, who have been living without gas for a month.

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