The fire at Sejong Hospital in Miryang, South Gyeongsang Province, which killed 37 people on Friday morning caused more deaths because most of the patients at the hospital were elderly, sources said.
According to sources from the medical community, the Hyoseong Medical Foundation acquired nursing business-centered Sejong Hospital in 2008 and separated it into two units – a general hospital and a nursing home. Right beside Sejong Hospital sits Sejong Nursing Hospital now.
According to the Health Insurance Review & Assessment Service, Sejong Hospital has more than 100 beds, operation rooms, and an emergency room. Sejong Nursing Hospital also has more than 100 beds. On Friday morning, more than 100 patients were inside the building of Sejong Hospital, and 93 patients in Sejong Nursing Hospital, news reports said.
At Sejong Hospital, two physicians are working – an internal medicine specialist and a neurosurgeon. The hospital’s medical equipment includes computed tomography (CT) scanner, bone densitometer, and an ultrasound imaging machine.
Sejong Nursing Hospital has three medical staffs – a surgeon, a family medicine specialist, and a general practitioner. Most of the patients at the hospital have dementia and joint disorders. The average number of patients per doctor is 30.5.
“As the hospital is located in a remote village, the patients were mostly elderly. That seems to have caused more damage,” said Park Yang-dong, head of the doctors’ association in South Gyeongsang Province. “We will do everything we can to support the victims.”
The government moved quickly to respond to the fire incident. The Presidential Office of Cheong Wa Dae received the fire report at around 7:32 a.m., immediately operated the state crisis management center and held the National Security Council meeting.
The Ministry of Health and Welfare set up an incident management and support division to help patients move to nearby hospitals and provide them with essential supplies. The ministry also dispatched a disaster psychologist to provide psychological support for patients, bereaved families, and residents. It also plans to send four more psychologists from state-run mental hospitals.
According to the authorities, the blaze started in the emergency room at Sejong Hospital at around 7:30 a.m. After the report of the fire, firefighters put it out in one hour and 40 minutes and rescued people. As of 11 a.m., the fire killed 37 people and injured 69, including eight with severe injury. Most of the dead were reportedly found at the emergency room on the first floor and a ward on the second floor in the six-story building.
|Firefighters put out the blaze at Sejong Hospital in Miryang, South Gyeongsang Province, which went up in flames at 7:30 a.m Friday., killing 37 and injuring more than 40. (Credit: Gyeongnam Provincial Police Agency|
Doctor, nurses died while saving patients
Meanwhile, the death toll includes counts of one doctor and two nurses who died while trying to rescue the patients from the burning building.
“Nine staff members were on duty at the hospital. Of them, a doctor, nurse, and nurse assistant died while rescuing patients,” Sejong Hospital Chairman Sohn Kyung-chul said.
The doctor died on the first floor of the hospital, and the two other medical workers, on the second floor, he said.
When asked about sprinklers, Sohn said they had none. The building is not obligated to install fire sprinklers due to its size under current laws, he added. “The reason we could not install fire sprinklers at Sejong Hospital was that the facility did not have enough surface area to install them,” he said.
The director added that they were planning to install sprinklers at Sejong’s nursing home, which lies adjacent to the hospital, next week, under revised medical and construction laws that required sprinkler installations by June 30. The Ministry of Health and Welfare announced law revisions in August 2014.
Sohn said that a short circuit from a recently installed air conditioner could be a possible cause.
Eyewitness reports are saying smoke first came from the nurses’ changing room, next to the emergency room, according to the police. The police and the national forensics agency will work together to identify the case of fire and assess its damages.
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