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Iraqi Hospital Struggles to Maintain US-Funded Improvements


American inspectors who review reconstruction projects in Iraq say some rebuilt facilities are falling into disrepair because they are not being properly maintained. A report by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, says of eight projects initially declared successes, seven are in jeopardy of falling short of their goals. VOA's Barry Newhouse visited a hospital in Irbil that is one of the projects inspectors said is at risk.

Pregnant women and their families crowd the halls of the Irbil Maternity Teaching hospital. This 300-bed facility in Iraq's northern Kurdish region is one of the best in the area, and many patients travel hours from the violent cities of Kirkuk and Mosul to receive care. On a busy day, as many as 80 babies are born here.

The U.S. government paid a contractor $6 million 800,000 in 2005 and 2006 to modernize the facility. Contractors installed new floors and plumbing, set-up new boilers and air conditioning units, and added some modern hospital equipment like an incinerator and an oxygen delivery system.

Stuart W. Bowen, Jr. is the special inspector general for Iraq Reconstruction.

"We visited the Irbil maternity hospital up in Kurdistan this quarter," he said. "It was something we reported on previously as a project that was well constructed. This was a sustainment review to see if the Iraqis are using the facility properly. The answer is, no."

One year after the contractors left and the hospital staff took over, inspectors say some of the expensive improvements are failing, but hospital workers insist it is not their fault.

"This is a new boiler," he said. "It is not working. It is the thermostat."

Hospital engineer Khaldoon Thasin stands in front of one of the hospital's new boilers that is charred with black soot. It and another boiler are missing a thermostat and he says he does not know how to fix it or where to buy a new one.

Hospital Director Dr. Sabriya Hamadameen says when contractors turned over the new equipment to the hospital they only told workers how to operate the equipment. She says they did not explain how to maintain it.

"We have the problem about the spare parts and the training," she said. "Our engineers they have no training about the new boiler and chiller [air conditioning] which they supplied to this hospital."

U.S. inspectors found similar maintenance problems throughout the facility in January.

Inspectors said workers did not know how to operate the incinerator and dumped medical waste into the new sewage system, causing backups.

Dr. Hamadameen says workers now properly use the incinerator. But she said they still have difficulties with some of the sophisticated new equipment, such as the oxygen system.

Huge new compressors pump oxygen throughout the hospital, but the system's automatic settings have begun to malfunction. Unless someone regularly checks the tanks to ensure they are correctly pressurized, Dr. Hamadameen says doctors cannot be sure their patients are receiving enough oxygen.

"If there is a patient that is taking anesthesia in the operating room, maybe if they do not check every 20 minutes maybe the patient will pass [die] when the oxygen becomes low," he said.

Workers pry open a shed housing an unused water purification system.

NEWHOUSE: "Can you explain how this works?"

TAHSIN: "No, no I do not know how it is working. [I] Only [know how] to start it."

U.S. inspectors recommended American officials work with the Iraqi government to train hospital workers on how to properly use and maintain the new equipment.

But in response, U.S. embassy officials in Baghdad rejected such a move, saying that once the facility was turned over to the Iraqis, American contractors had no obligation to train the hospital staff.