10 Nov 2009 Fourteen Hospitals Turn Away Critically-Injured Elderly Man
Summary: Instead of whisking a 69-year-old Japanese bicyclist who collided with a motorcycle to the emergency room, paramedics called 14 hospitals trying to find a facility that at last accepted the critically-injured man. The hospital at which he was taken attempted to transfer him to a better facility, but by this time the man was in such poor condition that he died of hemorrhagic shock.
Rescue workers in Japan called fourteen hospitals before finding one that would take an elderly bicyclist who collided with a motorcycle.
The accident, which occurred at 10:15 pm in the Japanese city of Itami, left the 69-year-old bicyclist, who was not identified, in critical condition with back and head injuries. Paramedics arrived on the scene five minutes after the crash and administered first aid. Yet, for about an hour, they were unsuccessful at locating a hospital to treat the man.
Helpless, the elderly man waited in the ambulance at the accident scene as hospital after hospital rejected treating him, citing unavailable beds, staff shortages and a lack of equipment and specialists. All told, fourteen hospitals in the neighboring prefectures — i.e., governing districts — of Hyogo and Osaka refused his entry.
“There were four other emergency calls in the same time frame of that night,” explained Mitsuhisa Ikemoto, the fire department spokesman. “[A]s a result, we were unable to find a hospital.”
It took a second round of calls for rescue workers to find a hospital. Finally, at 11:30 that night — 75 minutes after the accident — they took him to a hospital in Itami, which had initially declined to accept him. Unfortunately, it soon became apparent that the hospital’s resources that night were unsatisfactory.
At the time of his arrival at the hospital, the elderly man was already in critical condition from the accident and post-accident delay. When his condition suddenly deteriorated, hospital staff scrambled “to transfer him for better treatment,” according to the Associated Press.
Two hospitals rejected that transfer request. By the time a third hospital agreed to take the man, his condition was too poor to permit him to be moved.
He died of hemorrhagic shock at about 1:15 the next morning.
The Associated Press reported that the man “initially showed stable vital signs,” and, attributing the assessment to Ikemoto, reported the man “might have survived if a hospital accepted him more quickly.” Ikemoto was quoted saying, “I wish hospitals are more willing to take patients…”
Rescue workers also had trouble finding a hospital to treat a 29-year-old motorcyclist who also had been involved in the crash. Despite the motorcyclists’ severe injuries, the first two hospitals contacted refused to admit him. The third try succeeded, and the man was taken to a university hospital in Hyogo. Fortunately, two weeks after the accident, he was recovering.
The frustrating, and in one case, tragic experiences of the two accident victims initially denied medical care are not unique in Japan’s universal health insurance system.
According to a government survey conducted by the country’s Fire and Disaster Management Agency, Japanese hospitals denied admission to some 14,387 emergency patients in 2007. All 14,000-plus patients identified on paramedics’ reports were rejected at least three times. Moreover, at least 3.5 percent of these victims had serious conditions, which the survey defined as requiring more than three weeks of hospitalization.
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