I used to have a friend or two who covered health care here as journalists or consultants, so I'd have been able to ask about the recent efflorescence of reporting about patients' either being turned away from hospitals during life-threatening emergencies or being turned out of hospitals after their course of treatment was over if they had no home or family to go back to. As in, I'm not sure whether we're looking at relatively new phenomena, widespread phenomena that are finally getting coverage, or a few scattered incidents that eager reporters want to interpret as a larger pattern that may not exist.

I do know that there have been several memorable stories like this over the last several months:

An elderly woman died after 11 hospitals turned her away and paramedics struggled to find a medical institution that would accept her, it has been learned.

The 95-year-old woman fell ill at her home in Kiyose, Tokyo, on Jan. 8, and was picked up by emergency workers. However, 11 hospitals in the areas refused to accept her, citing such reasons as a lack of beds, and the woman died about 2 1/2 hours after the emergency call was made.

The article ends, "Among the medical institutions that refused to accept the woman was a third-level emergency medical facility that was equipped to handle patients whose lives were in danger," which raises the possibility that other institutions that were contacted may not have been able to handle her case (though that would normally make them clinics rather than hospitals in English translation). Another article in the Mainichi relates that an anorexic teenager was refused admission by seven hospitals. She was delirious and unable to walk and died the same night.

One of the incidents covered in the story I linked here may produce charges for four of the hospital staff involved:

Four workers at a hospital here face charges for abandoning a blind patient with diabetes at a park in September last year after his former wife refused to take him under her care, law enforcers said Wednesday.

Police are poised to send an investigation report to prosecutors, accusing four workers at Toyokawa Sogo Hospital in Kita-ku, Sakai, of abandoning a person they were responsible for protecting.

The four transported the patient to his former wife's home in Sumiyoshi-ku, Osaka, after doctors deemed that he could be discharged from the institution, only to be rejected, investigators said. They then abandoned him at a park in Nishinari-ku, Osaka, according to local police.

One of the four then called for an ambulance saying, "A man has collapsed at the park. He appears to be visually impaired."

It's hard to determine from the thin detail given whether the four hospital employees implicated actually decided to dump the guy; that they called an ambulance (to take him to another hospital!) indicates that they were interested in more than just getting rid of him and high-tailing it out of there. Perhaps their supervisor told them to take the man out of the facility and not to come back with him.
Posted by Sean on 2008-01-24 01:19:41

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