OAUTH patients: Waiting for a helping hand after treatment

AKINWALE ABOLUWADE writes that after recuperating, some poor patients who are unable to pay after being treated at the Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospital (OAUTH), Ile-Ife are usually held back by the hospital management in a building popularly called ‘Debtors’ Cage’ for their inability to defray their medical bills.

 

When wheeled into the ever-busy accident and emergency ward of Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospital, (OAUTH), Ile-Ife few years ago, Esther (first name withheld) was haggling between life and death. Apart from her blood-soaked and torn dress, she was brought into the hospital with nothing. She was neither accompanied by family members, acquaintances nor friends. Esther was rushed in on emergency from an accident scene along Ile-Ife/Ondo road in a dicey condition but was luckily stabilised and managed until she fully recovered more than a year after.

Investigation showed that Esther was brought in under serious medical emergency resulting from multiple fractures that she had in the crash. She was said to be hemorrhaging profusely from different parts of her body and needed to be transfused in order to save her life. She was subjected to intense medical care until she became stable. A physician in the teaching hospital who spoke to Saturday Tribune on the condition of anonymity said that the middle aged lady survived by reason of special care because her condition was critical when brought in.

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It was gathered that Esther’s medical bill had piled up into millions of naira by the time she was due to be discharged. Although by then her family members showed up after tracing her to the teaching hospital, they were unable to discharge her after completing treatment due to their inability to defray her medical bill. For several months, Esther was detained in the debtor’s cage pending when her family members would defray her medical bills.

Like Esther, a teenage girl called Bose lived in the debtors’ cage for several weeks before help eventually came her way through two good Samaritans that got to know about her case during their visit to the hospital. Bose was said to have suffered a fracture to her pelvis in an auto crash. However, after completing her treatment her parents could not offset her bills due to their financial state. Two men in angel clothing came to give her a helping hand by offsetting her medical bills and she was released amid tears of joy that made other inmates go emotional.

For the period, Esther and many other poor patients who were unable to pay their medical bills were confined in the debtors’ cage, a yellow building in the hospital. They all live under close watch the bungalow which is approximately 500 metres away from the main gate of the hospital. A source told Saturday Tribune that the security operatives of the teaching hospital were detailed to ensure that they do not elope from the hospital.

When Saturday Tribune visited the hospital recently some of the inmates who were unable to pay their medical bills after treatment were seen in front of the building. Among them were men and women, young and old who are waiting for a saving grace from spirited members of the public who come once a while to pay on their behalf.

A source in the information department of the hospital disclosed that Senator Iyiola Omisore, former deputy governor of Osun State and governorship candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in the state usually lifts some of the hospital debtors from the weight of debts. According to the source, the politician, like a few other philanthropists visit the hospital almost annually to give their widow’s mite in support of the poor.

A social worker and visitor to the hospital, who gave his name simply as Mr Wale, lamented the plight of the poor people who were held back at the hospital due to their inability to pay saying that government should make provision for the treatment of those who are in abject poverty.

He said: “Recently, someone close to me took ill and she needed comprehensive diagnosis and health care which took us to OAUTH. It was at the point of making some payments that one of the by-standers overheard my conversation with a friend who runs a charity organisation. The man told me of a teenager who had her pelvis fractured owing to road traffic accident and her parents could not offset her bills after being discharged. My friend, (name withheld) and I rallied round and cleared her bills. It was at the point of payment that I insisted I would like to see the patient and I was shocked that many other patients who had been discharged and could not pay their bills were being kept at a designated point popularly known as the “Debtors’ Cage” pending when they could clear their bills.

“The name of the lady whose bill we cleared is Bose. My interaction with her revealed that she had been there for more than two months before we came to her rescue. Upon offsetting her bills, other inmates at the debtors’ cage also pleaded that we should assist. We were able to clear a part of the bill of another woman who had twins whose husband absconded because of his inability to pick the hospital bill. For Bose, we paid N70,000 and the other woman was about N10,000

“Apart from my personal financial commitment, I am making efforts to also mobilise some friends to see what could be done to assist some patients in that condition again. However, no matter the volume of resources mobilised, it can never be enough. Governments need to work out a robust insurance package that can take care of this un-dignifying condition that the downtrodden go through.

“First, we must make taxes work effectively for the masses. Revenue being generated at all levels of government should be evenly distributed to cater for the health and other social essential needs of the masses. We must ensure the dignity of our people. On the other hand, we must review and revamp our Health Insurance Scheme which covers or shares the expenses associated with healthcare of individuals. It should be more robust to take cognizance of the average Nigerians. The scheme should be based on the need to ensure effective healthcare services to all Nigerians at an affordable cost. Fortunately, it is exiting already as the Federal Government had established the National Health Insurance Scheme under Act 35 of 1999.

“The well-to-do and charity groups should not only be interested in building structures alone. As much as possible they should see to the need of the masses by way of bailing them out pending when we shall find lasting and sustainable solutions to this problem. It is not dignifying for our people to be discharged and still being held captive when they should be recuperating at the various homes. People can institutionalise aid giving foundations to immortalize their loved ones and these initiatives can also pick the bills of the less privileged too.”

When contacted, the officials of the Public Relations Department, Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospital (OAUTH), Ile-Ife, said they could not speak officially on the issue but dispelled the allegation that those who were unable to defray their bills were incarcerated at the hospital. A senior officer in the department said: “It would not be fair to just look at the issue from a negative angle. OAUTH does not turn away patients because they cannot afford to pay medical bills especially if they are brought in on emergency. What matters to us in this case is their survival; they are received and stabilized so that we don’t end up losing them. The hospital management is sensitive to the plight of its patients but we are not offering free services and we have a way of getting help for those in that category through philanthropic members of the society.

“At the moment, we don’t have patients who owe the hospital. For those who owed, some people have come to pay their bills; they put money down and that is the situation now. We don’t send patients away. When they come through our emergency unit our duty is to stabilize them and save their lives. When they get better, we transfer them to the regular ward till they get better before they are discharged. Most of those who have high medical bills to pick go through major surgeries. Their bills could run into N1million, N700,000 or thereabout. Some of them are indigents.”

Attempts made by Saturday Tribune to speak with the Chief Medical Director (CMD) of the teaching hospital, Professor Victor Adetiloye, at the time of the visit was abortive as he was said to be unavoidably absent.

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