Forgotten patients and the cry of pain

April 03, 2019

Saudi Gazette report

Many elderly people suffering from common geriatric conditions but are otherwise healthy are forced to remain in hospitals to receive extended care that they cannot find elsewhere.

These people do not get appropriate social care they desperately need in any hospitals nor are they taken back by their family members to look after them.

These patients continue to remain in the hospitals even though they have fully recovered from diseases because of which they were initially admitted into those facilities. In addition to regular follow-up, they need extended social care that the hospitals are unable to provide them with.

According to a recent report in the Arabic language daily Al-Madina, the responsibility of taking care these patients rests with the Health Ministry and the Ministry Social Development as well as their family members.

The report said there were 48 forgotten patients in King Fahd and King Abdul Aziz hospitals in Jeddah, about half of them expatriates who were stranded in the country because of issues with their legal Saudi sponsors.

Though their doctors have discharged them, they refuse to leave becoming a heavy burden on the hospitals.

According to medical experts, leaving these elderly patients for a long time in the hospitals after treatment might lead to depression and other psychological conditions in them.

Dr. Yasser Al-Juaid, director of the department of extended care at King Fahd Hospital in Jeddah, described such cases as “a complicated social issue” and said the reasons behind their protracted stay in the hospitals were economic and family-related.

Most of the forgotten patients are old men and women who either do not have family members to look after them or their families are not willing to take them back, Juaid said.

Caring for these old people is a costly affair and some people wrongly assume that the hospital is a better place for them than social care homes.

Juaid said said family conflicts were also among the reasons why these old people preferred to remain in the hospitals than going back to their homes.

“We have an old patient whose family members never visited him in more than four years though they live in the same neighborhood,” he said.

“These patients are just hospital occupants. They are not patients as they have been treated and cured of their diseases,” he explained.

A number of social workers have asked the Ministry of Social Development to shoulder its responsibility toward them but the ministry has set harsh conditions, which include these old people should not be suffering from any chronic conditions.

Manal Al-Somali, a social worker, says some of these patients who have already passed the stage of medical treatment are in need of specialized centers to provide them with the required care.

“There is not a single center for extended geriatric care in Jeddah despite the city’s dense population,” Al-Somali said. “There is one facility in Makkah, but it will not accept anyone who is not an original resident of the holy city.”

Al-Somali said many families refused to take back their old members due to economic reasons as caring for them was quite expensive.

She held the families and the ministries of health and social affairs to be responsible for the pathetic condition of these people and said the government should build special centers to take good care of them.

She said a patient would cost the hospital more than half a million riyals annually. She added that sick people deserved the beds these forgotten patients were occupying for no good reason.

Halima Kurdi, another female social worker, warned that the long stay in the hospitals after treatment and recovery might trigger serious psychological problems in these patients. Abdul Karim Al-Qadi, a lawyer, believes that the families are responsible to take care of their old members and said they should be compelled to take these patients home.

Talal Al-Nashiri, a former director of social services at the Health Ministry, said more social care homes must be built to host old people.

“The number of people who need geriatric care in the country is estimated to be more than 2 million and we only have 10 care homes all over the Kingdom while the city of Jeddah does not have any such facility,” he said.

Al-Nashiri said Jeddah only had Arbita (charity homes for the poor), which “are full to the brim with poor and elderly women”.

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