by GAN PEI LING and LOH FOON FONG © The Star 22 May 2017
PETALING JAYA: Kak Tijah* spent her entire retirement savings on her son’s wedding. When she fell ill, she was penniless. The son – and his wife – abandoned the older woman.
Susan* lent her life savings to her eldest child for business. She fell ill and was left in the hospital with no one to pay the bill.
These are just two of the many heartbreaking cases public hospitals have to deal with when family members refuse to take their now bedridden parents home.
“Some children genuinely cannot afford it but some are just irresponsible, and siblings push the responsibility to one another,” said a source from a public hospital.
The source said the hospital’s social work department has to deal with at least two such cases of unclaimed Malaysian patients every week.
Unclaimed foreign patients are dealt with by the hospital’s public relations department.
The source added that it is important for ready-to-be-discharged patients, especially those in emergency wards, to make way for new patients who need the beds more.
“If a Malaysian patient is sent in by a member of the public, and the doctors or nurses notice that nobody comes to visit them, the Social Welfare Department will try to locate their family members.
“If they have no documents, we will get help from the National Registration Department.
“If the family members cannot be traced or are not responsive, we’ll try to find friends, or a nursing home as a last resort,” the source said.
The abandoned are of any age – the youngest are babies and the oldest are in their 70s.
Most common cases are senior citizens in their 60s, who have medical conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s or physical disabilities due to accidents, stroke or other serious illnesses.
“Although they are ready to be discharged from hospital, most could still be physically or mentally ill, requiring extra care at home and periodic visits to the hospital.
“When they aren’t properly taken care of at home, they get sent back to the hospitals earlier than their scheduled appointments,” the source explained.
In such cases, the hospital’s social workers will try to counsel the family members to take better care of the patients and check if there are any issues at home.
However, if nobody comes forward to claim the patients, they will be sent to public or private nursing homes.
“The Welfare Department has a home for the end-life stage at Kuala Kubu Baru, but it is usually full.
“There are three to four charity homes we can send them to but these are always full too,” the source said.
(* not their real names)