Mar Noguerol, 62, moves as if she were in her living room at the Cuzco Health Center in Fuenlabrada, south of Madrid. He has been a family doctor there for 25 years. She has been director for six years. It is one of the most recognizable faces of public health defenses in a decade, when the white tide exploded that managed to stop the privatization of Madrid’s health management. He was staring at the door of his health center in a speech that was went viral in late 2021, when he replied to President Isabel Díaz Ayuso about slipping that the toilets didn’t help. And since the beginning of the year, a disciplinary file has been hanging over her head, which she describes as an “exemplary punishment”: 10 months of punishment without employment and salary, which they can leave without their place and for which there have already been two demonstrations a month. The last this Friday. For Noguerol this is a vendetta. An attack on freedom of speech. A torture in the middle of the square to express yourself. The government of the Autonomous Community of Madrid prefers not to comment. “We don’t provide any information about worker files,” they limit themselves to saying. She’s a force of nature and doesn’t mind explaining why she’s just yards from retirement in a situation that touched her. But not sunk.
The toilets are the ones who have put this pandemic on their backs with a curtailed public health system and are under great pressure, they are exhausted and who should protect them points out that the division is being caused.
— Carolina Alonso (@Carolalon1) December 24, 2021
Noguerol’s past weighs like a quintal on his record. She knows it, although she didn’t stop him from fighting for what he thought was right. On this occasion for some contracts that the administration accuses him of having made irregular. “Point number one,” he clarifies: “We can’t hire anyone. Human Resources does. We propose and they hire. Point number two: suddenly they changed us [desde la Administración] rules overnight. And verbally.
The crux of the controversy is the rules that have changed. Until April 2021, short-term absences (e.g. due to illness such as Covid) were replaced if the center proposed a replacement. Then the Directorate-General for Human Resources grabbed the glove and hired. “So we could suggest someone who already knows the center to add and not burden the operation. And more in one of the Covid waves than we were.
That was incident number one in April last year. She proposed a candidate for administrative leave and the regional government said no, the rules had changed and now someone from the labor market was being sent. “Then I gave up the substitution. It was a greater burden for me to have to teach someone in the fifth wave of Covid with everything we had with us than to be with one less.”
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Incident number two was similar. It was June 2021. He suggested a replacement, Health sent another person and on that occasion he accepted it (“We were with the changes to the agenda, we went from making all the phone appointments to the face-to-face ones and it was very necessary”) . And the trouble is over. Not without protesting first. Because Noguerol didn’t understand why they imposed a criterion when the operation of the center was easier when these short substitutions were made by people who already knew the mechanics and the workplace. Time later, after widespread complaints from all directors, the administration agreed, albeit indirectly: the amended rule reverted to its original state.
The surprise came last January with the opening of the “irregular hiring” file. She made allegations and presented witnesses. But they denied it. He again submitted arguments. They denied again. Until he found out on June 22 that he was applying for a file that would result in a 10-month ban on work and salary and the world was at his feet. “I’m not only the head of a center but also a doctor, I love medicine and my patients and I would lose my place. If they want to punish me, they should fire me as director, like they did colleagues who stood out in the white tide. But don’t leave me without a job. And what do I do with the ongoing investigations?”
The wave of empathy unleashed by the character Noguerol is already spreading to the medical profession. At first it was his companions who wrote a letter in his defense. Then the Works Council of the Hospital of Fuenlabrada, with whom they actively collaborate for the well-being of their mutual patients. Also the doctors unions like Mats, Amyts or CSIT who have turned to their defence. Also from CC OO and UGT. “Generally, I felt an encouragement that I didn’t expect from the entire medical community,” he admits. “I thought there was a lot of fear and that what’s happening to me could silence a lot of people. But it achieves the opposite effect. People have seen that it is so unfair that they are protesting.” And finally his patients, who flocked to the July 15 demonstration in front of Cuzco’s health center to show their support. The images of the street full of people in the midst of a suffocating heatwave spoke for themselves.
Those who know her assure that Noguerol is now reaping the love she sowed. She has always been a woman who fought for the flag. He was born in Jaén into a working-class family who raised three daughters. He moved to Madrid when he was just a few months old and became independent at 18, wanting to conquer the world and defend rights that were not yet rights in the society that had just emerged from the Franco regime. She moved to Bilbao, worked as an administrative clerk, shared an apartment with and was miraculously saved from Yolanda González, the young 19-year-old fighter for the Socialist Workers Party (PST) who was murdered by the fascist commando Fuerza Nueva in 1980. Because you’re not at home. At the age of 23, she decided to turn her life around and devote herself to the medicine she was passionate about, and while earning her living she studied. And while he worked to live and study, he took upon himself some administrative contradictions. Just in case. He finished his studies, studied residency in Asturias and while he was not finished, he returned to face some opposition, in this case to practice as a general practitioner. Approving them, he moved to Fuenlabrada and there saw his family grow and form unfathomable bonds with his neighbors and patients.
This Friday, after another demonstration that cut through Sagasta Street in Madrid, 4,500 signatures were handed over to the Directorate General of Human Resources for the administration to defer a sanction that nobody understands. “Be careful doctor, they are dangerous,” warns a patient who has just returned from vacation and passed the health center.
She smiles and says she will do what she can. At least that’s what is being tried. A large banner hangs on the door in support: “All with Mar. Courage, companions.” The workers wear a yellow button on their lapels as a reminder that they will not be silenced and are part of the “Noguerol team”. It’s Friday afternoon. The director does not know what will happen. The decision on the complaint filed on July 20 is still pending. She picks up her bag and takes home a bag of tomatoes from the garden and some cheeses her neighbors brought from the village.
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