MOSCOW (Reuters) - Yelena Nikonorova, a nurse in the Russian town of Belebey, took a new job on a hospital ward on April 1. Two days later, she went on sick leave. A month later, she was dead after contracting the coronavirus, her death certificate shows.
Local health ministry officials say her illness was not work-related. That means her relatives may not be eligible for financial compensation.
President Vladimir Putin has ordered payments of 2.7 million roubles ($39,3860) be paid to families of health workers who die after being infected while treating coronavirus patients.
Medics who contract the virus at work but survive are eligible for a one-off payment of 68,811 roubles ($990).
But the families of three medics who died after contracting the virus and five health workers told Reuters they had faced difficulties getting compensation, citing bureaucratic obstacles.
“My mum spent her whole life in healthcare, half of her career (working) on a hospital ward,” said Nikonorova’s son, Pavel, who has written to Putin asking for help in showing how she died. “I’d like the truth.”
The Health Ministry did not respond to a request for comment.
Reuters could not determine how widespread the difficulties in getting compensation are, but Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it was inevitable that some problems arose in such a large country, and the Kremlin tried to fix those that did.
“It would be wrong to paint a picture of what is happening based on individual cases,” he said, praising the “titanic efforts” made to respond to the situation.
Peskov said Putin received a huge number of letters and the Kremlin tried to deal with each one “as soon as they get to us”.
It was not immediately possible to ascertain the status of Nikonorova’s son’s letter, he said, as such appeals take time to go through the system.
Russia has reported over 500,000 coronavirus cases and 6,532 deaths but the World Health Organization has questioned the accuracy of the tally, which is relatively low for such a large country.
Relatives of some thousands of victims who had the coronavirus have also complained that the virus was not registered as cause of death.
The Kremlin has denied there is anything untoward with the official tally, and Russian officials say the way the country counts coronavirus deaths is more accurate than elsewhere.
Though Nikonorova, 56, had diabetes, she had only a surgical face mask for protection in Belebey, about 1,250 km (775 miles) east of Moscow, her son said.
Three other healthcare workers who got the virus said they had not been tested for the virus in the first stage of treatment, so were not eligible for compensation, which depends on a positive test result.
“You have to fight to prove you got sick at work,” said Antonina Sedova, a nursing assistant at St Petersburg’s Research Institute of Emergency Medicine, where 111 out of 2,100 employees had been diagnosed with the virus by May 1, according to Anton Povzun, the head doctor.
“We’re no more than cockroaches to the bosses,” Sedova, who contracted the coronavirus but has not yet been compensated, wrote in a letter to Putin demanding more personal protective equipment (PPE) for staff.
Peskov said the letter’s status was not immediately clear, and Sedova’s institute denied having a shortage of PPE.
Four medical workers from the same workplace as Sedova died after contracting the virus, St Petersburg healthcare officials confirmed.
They included Larisa Veselago, a gynaecologist who died on May 8, her daughter-in-law Katerina said. The family has received confirmation from the hospital that she died after contracting the coronavirus at work. The approval of city authorities is now needed for compensation to be paid out.
St Petersburg’s health committee said the number of staff infected at the hospital was a medical secret, but confirmed four people had died.
It said the hospital had resolved 68 compensation cases. Over 4,000 medical staff had been infected in St Petersburg and, as of June 9, 1,392 of them had been classified as having contracted the coronavirus, it said.
($1 = 69.3700 roubles)
Additional reporting by Polina Ivanova,; Editing by Andrew Osborn and Timothy Heritage