Health Care from Personal Experiences.

Health Care System in Russia

A lot was written about Health Care System. Only a lazy one didn’t blog, or post, or comment about Health Care issues. I was going to be a lazy one. But the other day I was talking over Skype with my cousin who lives in Kazakhstan (the country of my birth). I was telling him about some treatment my mother was getting for her eye problem. Amongst the rest I mentioned that America has an amazing medical care. He asked me if it was better than in Israel. I said, YES! Then I corrected myself- I think that Israel might be more advanced in some aspects (like researches in certain medical field); but America might have the longer history of Medical Care System. I asked my cousin about Health Care System in Russia now, if it changed since the time we left the country. He told me that Private Hospitals are great, but very expensive, often times unaffordable for an average person. Government hospitals are the same as in soviet times.

I can’t discuss Health Care Systems development; I am not knowledgeable enough for this. All what I can and want to do is just to go over my memories, about my own personal experiences.

This will give you a glimpse into Russian hospitals

A typical hospital room. Image from
A typical hospital room. Image from
Beds in a hospital corridor. Also very typical for overcrowded soviet hospitals.
Beds in a hospital corridor. Also very typical for overcrowded soviet hospitals.
A Nursing Home room.
A Nursing Home room.
A picture from Kiev hospital #2 (a facility for TB patients)
A picture from Kiev hospital #2 (a facility for TB patients)

Soviet (socialist) free “Health Security”

I was lucky- first of all, I was growing a healthy child, second of- my mother was a doctor, so I never had a “luck” to stay (or, as they say in Russian, “lay”) in a hospital. When I was sick, my mother was treating me at home, giving me injections if needed, etc. I never was in a hospital overnight as a patient when I was a child. But I knew hospital life from inside, because as it was said, my mother was a doctor. She used to work her day shift in a polyclinic, and then to take a night shift in a hospital (it was called “night duty”). My mother was raising me alone, my grandmother died when I was six. It was not common to hire sitters, so naturally my mother used to bring me along for her night duties. I slept on a leather couch in a “duty room”. I used to play and interact with hospital patients from Orthopedic department . The patients were children, as my Mother worked in Pediatric Surgery. Children stayed in Hospitals without their parents. Imagine all the stress those kids had to go through…. Rooms (they were called “Chambers”) were big, usually there were from six to ten beds in each chamber. When I “laid” in a hospital as already grown up woman (twice during my pregnancy for bed rest and after giving birth to my son) the rooms were same (if not more) crowded. Sometimes there were beds in the hospital corridors. Many surgeries (like appendectomy, tonsillectomy, adenoidectomy and the like) were performed under local anesthesia, which made the procedures more traumatic psychologically.

Doctors as a rule were great. The medical education was free (as any education in Soviet Union), but also doctors (as well as teachers, engineers and other college graduate professionals) were paid miserably funny salaries. In fact they were paid less than a factory line worker with no education. Nevertheless the majority of Health Care professionals were dedicated, high quality specialists who cared about their patients and were saving their lives often times with what little technologies they had. It was unbelievable how doctors were able to treat people under those circumstances, in overcrowded hospitals, with literally ancient equipment. The Health Care system was completely national, under complete government control. It was free, it didn’t cost us a penny (kopeika) to come to a doctor. You come to a polyclinic, sign up at the reception and then seat hours in a line (or stay if all the chairs in a waiting corridor were occupied) until a doctor can see you. Sometimes I used to sit behind the door (in a corner under the coat hanger) in my mother’s office while she was seeing patients. Some days she used to accept up to 70-75 patients during her 6 hours shift. You make a math how much time she had for each one. No every day was like this, but when it was, it was like a conveyer- while one patient was taking his shirt off, she was checking another, giving orders to her nurse, checking the work of another nurse over the treated patient, signing a prescription for the previous patient. Plus tons of paperwork demanded by government. My mother was a great doctor, people were coming to her from remote places, University professors were sending patients to her for consultations. She was making miracles under the circumstances of socialistic medicine. The same were most of her colleagues.

Why the hospitals were so poor? First of all, not ALL the soviet hospitals were that poor. So called “departmental” hospitals were equipped according the last word of medical science, with “chambers” for one (maximum two) patients. Services were no lower than in the best royal hospital. Who were the patients of these hospitals? You bet, they were Soviet government workers of high range.

Normal citizens had no choice but to be in the mercy of doctors in awful, free, government Hospitals. If a Hospital administration was lead by an honest person, the picture was not drastic. The head of a Soviet hospital (CEO)was called “Main Doctor” (“Glavnyi vrach”, or glav-vrach for a short cut). He had medical education. If he was an honest dedicated doctor he had to struggle to keep his hospital on a good level by using government money rightly. Dishonest administration was getting personally rich by stealing from the hospital funds (this could be happening in any type of government business).

Preventive care as an advantage. Bribery as a reality

There was a good thing in governmental (free) health care system- prevention medicine. Since one was not afraid to face huge co-payments, people were going to doctors early enough to prevent major problems by timely treatments. There were regular mandatory health “check ups” in kindergartens, schools and in industries.

The health care itself was not so bad. The hospitals as facilities were awful. Saying of that time- “If you want to be alive- stay away from hospitals”.

Another reality born in a government controlled society- bribery. Honest people didn’t take bribes. How many honest people there were in a socialistic society? A LOT! A lot. Otherwise, the picture would be totally dramatic. But also, there were enough of corrupted money-hungry functioners in a “free” socialistic world. Enough said.

A story of a small group of cancer patients in Uzbekistan (USSR) in 1955. Author- Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

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Comments 16 comments

Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 7 years ago

Thanks for the interesting commentary on your personal experience with medical care in the Soviet Union. The U.S. does have great medical care for those who can afford it. Too bad so many people don't have access to it.

ReuVera profile image

ReuVera 7 years ago from USA Author

Ralph, thank you for visiting.... I both agree and disagree with you. Yes, those who make good money can afford good health care. On the other hand one of my in-laws lives under the poverty level and he has free state health care. The same great medical care but for free.

Those who honestly work just to pay their bills are in worst condition. When I had a job and health insurance through my employer it was still almost unaccessible for me because of high deductibles (if you have low deductibles, you have high premium...). I wouldn't go to a doctor for small problems (even if they could become big in a long run).

I think (it's just my thinking) that private health insurance plans made all this mess. Not only that those insurances often times dictate to medical providers what they can do and what they can't (by regulating payments), but the same private health plans made heath care unaffordable for regular people.

I don't know about other states, but in Wisconsin there are great state programs, emergency programs and community programs that would help those who can not afford to pay their hospital bills in case of need.

ReuVera profile image

ReuVera 7 years ago from USA Author

P.S. I my hub I just wanted to share what happens to hospitals when health care is under total government control.

Vladimir Uhri profile image

Vladimir Uhri 7 years ago from HubPages, FB

Thank you ReuVera for good picture of socialistic medicine. I was also working in the same system.

First problem here in US the government does not want to deal is liability. Secondly, the government made all mass in medicine. Coding and Drs. lost their freedom. Medicaid (welfare) patients had better treatment as others since there was a temporary freedom of prescriptive drugs until Medicaid caught Medicare malignant practices.

The problem we have is CEO's of insurance company received 3.7 million salaries. The problem is socialistic money hungry materialists, which is promoted by our colleges and school system.

ReuVera profile image

ReuVera 7 years ago from USA Author

Vladimir, thank you for visiting and sharing your thoughts. Did you recognize the pictures? Was it the same way in your old country?

Vladimir Uhri profile image

Vladimir Uhri 7 years ago from HubPages, FB

I did. The was the same.

jiberish profile image

jiberish 7 years ago from florida

ReuVera, I was not aware that you are from Russia. My family is from Hungary, and my parents have told me about government health care. This was a wonderful story, and insight. Thank you.

I have to disagree with Deeds on one thing. No one in America, to my knowledge has been turned away from health care for not having insurance. The emergency rooms are filled with uninsured, and I have yet to see anyone sent away without care.

ReuVera profile image

ReuVera 7 years ago from USA Author

jiberish, I was born and lived in Soviet Union, then I lived 10 years in Israel and since 2001 I am a proud American. I agree with you 100% that no one is denied health care in America no matter what. I myself witnessed it lots of times, working for a physician and also through some personal experience when I had to take someone to emergency room. America is a great country. I have what to compare with....

And thank you for your visit.

cjv123 profile image

cjv123 7 years ago from Michigan

This is a valuable and well-illustrated of why any socialized medicine can't work! The thing of it is, it has never worked anywhere in the world! It is an evil thing our government and those currently in power are doing!

Thank you for so visually and concisely showing us the truth about socialized medicine!

ReuVera profile image

ReuVera 7 years ago from USA Author

Thank YOU, cjv123 for your ways of showing people the truth.

You are right, why do our leaders here, in America would wish to go by a way that has not work anywhere.... Probably for being in control over everything and everyone....? Also, for getting rich by making others equally poor.

yuliya 7 years ago

That's how everything was. Only small children not older than 5 in hospital were not by themselves.My 3 old daughter broke her leg and arm while she was in sadik(daycare)and no one knew how it happened.But the next day she got stomach bug and we had to go to hospital.So when we came there,doctors took my clothes and i was allowed to have only halat (robe) and tapochki(slippers).Like they explained for hospital to be clean.But the funniest thing was that in hospital they gave one bed for my daughter and me and the beds in soviet hospitals did not look anything like American fancy ones. So,can you imaging my daughter having arm and leg in cast sticking out different directions.and i had no place on the bed.Did not sleep for 2 nights and after 2 days my daughter was just fine,but we could not leave the hospital for a week.Was sleeping while seating on the floor with my back to the wall. Doctors did not let me go,you have to understand, that doors are locked and i had no clothes,i could not just leave the hospital.My daughter did not have any dangerous infection, it was just food poisoning. But if i will talk about roddom(birth center)American women will really freak out.Ha,ha.

Ginsengcare profile image

Ginsengcare 6 years ago

Thanks for the valuable information you provided for us. Healthcare system is no doubt very expensive.

Micky Dee profile image

Micky Dee 6 years ago

Thank you for this great hub. Cjv123 is incorrect. My view is that everyone should have medical treatment. Everyone should be equal treatment. People who say that socialized medicine cannot and has not worked are usually in the health-care profession.

The Guardian service is the one that should be available to all on the planet:

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Today, the convergence of simplified telemedicine technologies and reliable telecommunications has enabled this same level of service and life protecting capability to be brought to the private sector for the first time.

Guardian offers worldwide, 24 hour direct access to former White House physicians: the same physicians who provided direct medical care for the President of the United States and his Cabinet. These physicians bring an unparalleled healthcare standard for our clients while in the air, traveling on the ground or simply at home. Unparalleled because, against the vagaries and varying standards of healthcare around the world, Guardian provides its clients care that is always, without exception, convenient, discrete, and uncompromising in its clinical and service quality.

suziecat7 profile image

suziecat7 6 years ago from Asheville, NC

ReuVera - very enlightening Hub. Thanks

meow48 profile image

meow48 6 years ago from usa

wow. i work in a county hospital. the standard joke is that the less fortunate do have great medical care. I cannot afford to use my insurance provided by my hospital because the co pay is so high. very interesting hub. oh, and do not misunderstand. I really like my job and caring for the underserved allows me to keep my life in perspective.

ReuVera profile image

ReuVera 6 years ago from USA Author

I would prefer to have a good job and enough earnings to pay for my health insurance than be "less fortunate" and have free medical care. But I understand what you mean.

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