From a four-year-old boy to a 90-year-old man, 17 persons have been abandoned by their relatives in the San Fernando General Hospital, with similar situations existing at the Port of Spain General Hospital, Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex, and the St Ann’s Psychiatric Hospital.
Such acts are not entirely astonishing in a society where callousness is a common trait even among “decent citizens”. The natural affections that family members usually have for one another were, in these cases, not sufficient for them to shoulder their responsibilities. It may be the case that, for financial and other reasons, the relatives were unable to cater to the special needs of the abandoned individuals. What must be condemned, though, is their method of getting them off their hands.
“People bring the patients to the hospital and supply us with wrong names and wrong addresses,” said one official. “Then they disappear, leaving the patient with us.”
Speaking on the issue earlier this month, Health Minister Fuad Khan gave the assurance of caring attention in public hospitals for people with nowhere else to turn and nobody to claim them and seek their interest. But, praiseworthy though this approach might be, it overlooks the fact that the essential mission of hospitals is to attend to the sick and to return them to something like self-sustaining health. So the occupation of hospital beds by 17 people, now determined to be “living” in San Fernando General Hospital, has turned the facility into something that it is not—a home for those with nowhere else to go.
Minister Khan’s policy may have two more unintended consequences. First, it may provide an incentive for more people, struggling with ill relatives, to dump them at the hospitals, knowing that they will be cared for at the State’s expense. The second consequence, flowing from the first, would be additional strain on the hospital personnel and resources.
Citizens already condemn, justifiably, the quality of care and service at health institutions. The almost criminal irresponsibility of dumping relatives at hospitals must equally be deplored, and finding these persons and exacting some sort of legal penalty should not be out of the question.
More important, however, is the provision of suitable shelters for the abandoned patients. In a country where the Prime Minister can announce $8 million for the Soca Warriors debt or annually allocate several millions for soca and chutney prizes, finding money to house and care for this small number of friendless and homeless individuals should not be too onerous.
There may not be much political gain from such an initiative, but the politicians should bear in mind that a society’s development is best measured by how it cares for its least able citizens.