Tue | Oct 15, 2019

Dangerous discharge - Patients opt to walk out of UHWI against doctors’ advice after main X-ray machine goes down

Published:Sunday | January 13, 2019 | 12:00 AMNadine Wilson-Harris
A section of the University Hospital of the West Indies is seen in this August 16, 2017 file photo. The hospital is Guardian Life's largest biller. The insurance company has seen a spike in payouts to hospitals in the past two years and is projecting that will rise with the doubling of public hospital fees for insured persons that took effect August 1, 2018.
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The breakdown of the main x-ray machine at the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI) has caused some patients to discharge themselves from the facility despite medical advice that they could be putting themselves at risk.

But the hospital's chief executive officer, Kevin Allen, says that the hospital has acquired two digital x-ray machines, which should put an end to this dangerous practice.

One former patient at the hospital, Stivel Morgan, told The Sunday Gleaner that he discharged himself against medical advice last Tuesday after his planned surgery was put off twice. The 55-year-old diabetic and hypertensive man said he went to the hospital on December 31 due to pain and vomiting, and following a number of tests, he was told he had kidney stones.

Morgan was scheduled to have surgery three days after he was admitted, but after going without meals in preparation for the surgery, he was told that it would have to be rescheduled because the x-ray machine was not working. He was then scheduled to have the operation on January 7, but again, he was told that the surgery could not take place.

"They put me on fasting again and said I am not to eat, and they gave me a prescription and said I must go and get all these tubes because the surgery is going to be done. I send and I ask my son to leave work and go and get the tube dem for me," said Morgan, who spent more than $20,000 to acquire the items.

He said he was disappointed when they told him the surgery could not take place again. He then opted to leave the hospital so that he would not have to pay for the additional days of staying there.

"I said, 'it does not make sense I stay here because if I am here to do an operation and two times now unnu put me for surgery and the theatre gone down, it don't make any sense. So is either I am going to walk out or I'm going away'. They said I can't walk out, I am going to have to check out, so I said it's better I check out," said Morgan.

Another patient who discharged himself from the hospital on January 5, Barry Brown*, said he first went there on December 28 after experiencing excruciating stomach pain.

 

TESTS GOT DELAYED

 

Among the tests he was asked to do privately was a CT scan, and he was then asked to do another test but decided to leave the hospital when he was told that the test could not be done for another three days.

"I said, 'I am not going to stay in here on my back from Saturday to Tuesday not doing anything,' so I discharged myself," said Brown.

When The Sunday Gleaner contacted Allen, he said that the hospital was still doing X-rays although the main x-ray machine was not working.

"I will say that the x-ray machine is down, and we are working assiduously to carry out the necessary repair work. One would appreciate that these machines are on the older side, and so the parts are not readily available, and secondly, we have to source the parts overseas," said Allen.

"There are arrangements in place with private entities that the patients can go and have their studies done, and the management of the patient will continue, but we can't hold anybody here against their will," added Allen.

He noted that the hospital has entered into arrangements with private entities to pay for patients' studies, and then they would bill the patient and collect at a later date.

"We have a priority list. There are some cases that are more acute than others. I am not a medical doctor, but there is scheduling. If your case is assessed as not being a dire emergency, you will get to go on a list and wait a little bit, and the person who is coming, with the gunshot wound and the stab wound and whose case appears to be life-threatening, those persons will be taken care of post-haste," he added.

According to Allen, the hospital's board procured two digital x-ray machines recently, and one is currently being installed and tested. He said that this machine would be put to use in another week or so while up to last Tuesday, they were still awaiting the arrival of the next one.

Allen said that while he could understand the patients' frustration, all was being done to not disrupt the management of those who come to the institution.

He was not able to give a figure on how many patients had discharged themselves against medical advice in recent times, but he said that the situation was not unique to the UHWI.

"We don't deny care for any patients, whether or not you were discharged against medical advice or you can't pay your hospital bill. We are here to serve the public, and we try to serve the public as best as possible with the limited resources we have at our disposal," said Allen.

* Name changed on request.

nadine.wilson@gleanerjm.com