Incident Reports

Quake victims turned away by private hospitals


Gandaki, Lamjung, Besishahar, Ward 8

 As Sushil Adhikari, an earthquake victim from Aarupokhari-4, Gorkha awaits the restoration of his skull bones at the Kathmandu Medical College (KMC), his family is struggling to arrange money for the major operation. Doctors at the hospital had discharged him two weeks ago keeping his two skull bones in the hospital and asked him to come on Thursday for another round of operation to restore the broken bones. Adhikari's family, however, has taken him back to the hospital for an operation but has been unable to deposit the money, which is needed for surgery. "I have already spent all the money I had in his treatment and I am not in a position to pay additional charges," Sushil's father Ishwor lamented.

Fifteen-year-old Sushil was working in his uncle's photo studio at Tinkune, Kathmandu when the wall of the three-storied building collapsed in the quake, smashing his skull and leaving him with other severe physical injuries. He was rushed to KMC in an unconscious state. Doctors at the hospital removed blood clots and extracted broken bones from his skull cavities. Ishwor informed that he had already spent about Rs 100,000 on his son's treatment before the government declared free treatment for quake victims.

"Despite government order to treat earthquake-affected patients free of cost, they say that the hospital cannot provide free services to patients who come for follow-ups," complained Ishwor. He said the government must make it clear whether it would bear all medical expenses of quake victims or they themselves shout pay it. "As our son's skull bones are in this hospital, so we have no choice but to bring him here for the follow-up," complained Sita, the boy's mother. Still, the family is thankful to the hospital administration and doctors for saving Sushil's life. "I don't have any complaint with the hospital and doctors. I want the government to make clear whether we ourselves have to arrange treatment cost or the government would provide it," Ishwor asked.

The KMC has offered free services to quake victims during their first visit, but not for follow-ups. Unlike KMC, several private hospitals have been charging quake victims full fees, despite the government's assurance for reimbursement of the cost involved. Relatives of hundreds of quake victims who are undergoing treatment at private hospitals have been struggling to foot medical bills incurred in the treatments.

Officials at MoHP said that every day it receives dozens of complaints related to medical bills. "Out of 20 phone calls, more than five are related to quake victims. Some seek help in getting discharged from hospital while others complain about exorbitant fees," informed Dr. Guna Raj Lohani, the spokesperson at the MoHP. Lohani said the ministry is working to address the problems faced by patients at private hospitals.

Earlier, MoHP had warned of stern action against private hospitals that charge quake-affected patients. Several hospitals in the capital are even refusing to admit patients who were critically injured in the earthquake until they deposit treatment costs first.

Meanwhile, a source at the ministry informed that some renowned private hospitals have presented fake data on patients to claim compensation from the ministry. Dr. Lohani informed that the ministry will arrange for free follow-up services to quake victims at the government hospitals. He urged all quake victims to visit Bir Hospital, Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital (TUTH), Patan Hospital, and other government hospitals for follow-ups.

However, relatives of quake victims with critical injures such as the Adhikari family, said that they are unwilling to take additional risks. "How can we go to another hospital carrying bones in hand and ask doctors to fix it?" asked Ishor Adhikari.