Antartis has been the hospital’s governor on and off since the 1980s, when it was revealed to be keeping patients naked and chained to their beds. He is adamant the institution bears no semblance to its former self. In 1988, he says, 1,600 patients were “piled up” in wards and looked after by fewer staff than today. Now, 120 of the 400 patients live relatively normal lives outside the hospital.
However, last week, Antartis was so concerned about supplies that he wrote to the health ministry and major political parties warning that patients were being poorly fed. Since then, he has managed to get the supplies coming in again and has met Greece’s caretaker health minister, who, he says, showed understanding and promised a 150,000 euros payment by the end of this month.
“But he [the minister] emphasized that the insurance funds do not have any money and that the hospitals have to keep every penny in order to keep going,” Antartis says.
Given the size of the debts and the interest rates on them, 150,000 euros “doesn’t cover anything.”
The inability of health insurance funds to pay their debts has caused chaos, contributing to a shortage of medicines and the closure of dozens of commercial pharmacies.
Antartis is relieved the hospital managed to resolve — albeit temporarily — the problem with food supplies without the patients realizing anything was wrong.
However, he remains concerned, particularly about medical supplies, as that is one area in which Leros’ community, as active and kind as it is, will not be able to help.
“I think the local people will help with food,” he says. “But even that is going to be a problem at some point, because for how long are they going to be able to help?”
One place where Greeks have reportedly already stepped in to fill the gap left by the state is Corinth, where the prison has had food shortages and people have started collecting goods for the inmates. Another is Lavrio, where donations have been keeping food on the table for the asylum seekers and refugees, among whom Lyritzis estimates there are 75 to 80 children.
Some of the volunteers are hardly well-off themselves: Nadia, one of the members of a people’s assembly from Athens which dropped off food at the weekend, is on Greece’s new unemployment benefit of 360 euros a month and has had to go back to live with her mother.
Lyritzis, an employee of the Hellenic Red Cross which runs the center, says the finance ministry has been unable to tell him when, or if, its funding might come. He says the center had an estimated five days of food supplies left and he is in a very bad psychological state.
The health ministry says the center’s funding has “not been axed in any way” and “we hope to resolve this issue in the next few days.”
For Badder, who came to Greece in 2010 after alleged persecution because of his Kurdish ethnicity, that would be good news.
However, if the situation is not alleviated, he would like to see the responsibility for his center fall to a power outside Greece.
He says: “The Greek people are very, very good. They look after us. But the Greeks have no money. Why must the Greeks bring us food? We are in Europe, not just Greece.”