After the government designated state-run medical institutions as hospitals exclusively responsible for treating COVID-19 patients, terminally ill patients at their hospice centers received an abrupt notice to find another place to stay.
However, other hospitals for palliative care said they were already full, leaving hospice patients at a loss.
The government ordered the state-designated hospitals to empty hospice wards by Friday this week to admit COVID-19 patients. However, the sudden move baffled the hospitals because hospice wards at other medical institutions nearby do not have vacant beds for terminally ill patients.
Sources in the medical community said the Seoul Metropolitan Government planned to send COVID-19 patients to Seoul Medical Center and Seonam Hospital to isolate them. Gyeonggi Province will use Paju Hospital as the institution exclusively treating COVID-19 patients. Accordingly, the three hospitals should move hospice patients to nearby institutions.
However, seven out of 16 terminally ill patients at the hospice ward of Paju Hospital could not find any other medical institution to go as of 7 a.m. on Monday.
The capital city asked Seoul Medical Center to move hospice patients to Seoul Metropolitan Dongbu Hospital. Still, it was impossible to transfer the entire patients due to the shortage of hospice beds.
Gyeonggi Province also designated Uijeongbu Hospital as the COVID-19 treating hospital but suspended the plan because the hospital was operating a psychiatric ward. It is difficult to move psychiatric patients to another hospital because a sudden change in the environment could negatively affect the status of patients, doctors said.
Experts in palliative care said moving hospice patients to general wards due to the lack of hospice wards meant virtually giving up the purpose of the palliative care – helping terminally ill patients mitigate suffering rather than focusing on curative treatment.
“Nursing hospitals refuse to receive seriously ill patients, and other hospice centers are full. I don’t know where the hospitals should move hospice patients,” a specialist in palliative care said. “Most hospice wards are run independently from the hospitals. The government should allow hospice patients to stay as long as the hospitals can thoroughly sterilize the hospice ward.”
He noted that moving seriously ill patients to general wards at other hospitals will make it almost impossible to provide hospice care. The government must have had no other option in an urgent situation to contain the spread of COVID-19. Still, the decision to transfer hospice patients admittedly lacked a thorough review, he added.
During the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome outbreak in 2015, the National Medical Center had to care for MERS patients but had difficulty moving HIV patients to other hospitals. When the government shut Pyeongtaek St. Mary’s Hospital, where the first confirmed MERS patient visited, the hospital could not send patients to other hospitals.
In the end, an official at the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) had to make personal calls to several hospitals to transfer them.
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