Hospital Goes On Defensive After Ax Victim’s Death

Administrators at Phnom Penh’s Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital on Thursday refuted claims that hospital staff denied a brain scan, blood transfusions and surgery to a wom­an suffering from severe head wounds—a charge leveled by her husband shortly before she died there on Wednesday afternoon.

The woman, Oum Phana, 31; her mother Touch Som Oun, 67; and her 5-year-old son were sent to the Khmer-Soviet hospital on Tuesday afternoon after an unknown assailant entered their home in Si­hanoukville’s Muoy commune and attacked them with an ax as they slept, also hacking at four of her oth­er children. Her 13-year-old daugh­ter died on Wednesday while being transferred to Phnom Penh from a hospital in Preah Sihanouk.

At the hospital on Wednesday, Oum Phana’s husband, Kong Phea­rum, told reporters that medical staff had approached him Tuesday eve­ning to inform him that his wife needed a brain scan and blood transfusions before undergoing surgery, that the scan would cost $250 and that his family was responsible for finding the blood.

In a statement on Thursday, which was posted online by the Fresh News service, the hospital said staff had been unable to provide a scan or operate on Mr. Phearum’s wife —who was misidentified in the document as Oum Chenda—because she had sustained “a serious brain injury and had two swollen eyeballs.”

“Later, a group of doctors explained this to the patient’s family and used intensive care equipment immediately. In this situation, the doctor could not transfer the patient to be scanned right away because doctors needed to help revive the patient to a stable condition,” the statement said.

On Wednesday, Mr. Phearum said that his “poor family” medical card—issued to low-income families that cannot afford health services—was rejected by staff at the Khmer-Soviet hospital.

In its statement on Thursday, the hospital said it was willing to pay for the costs of medical tests for those who could not afford them.

“If it is necessary for scanning to be conducted urgently, the hospital can afford to help a poor patient,” it said, noting that family members still needed to provide blood in exchange for a transfusion from the hospital’s blood bank.

“But it is regrettable that the condition of the patient was too serious …and the patient passed away,” the statement said.

Hospital director Ngy Meng said by telephone on Thursday that doctors “had tried their best” to save Oum Phana.

He said hospital staff would not have asked for $250 from Mr. Phearum—a fisherman—whose entire family was covered by his poor card.

“I think he was confused; all of the poor families coming here with poor cards don’t have to pay,” he said, adding that if a patient’s family did have the means to pay, a brain scan would cost only $100.

“I want to clarify to you, they did not have to pay,” he said. “Please bring the name of the doctor [who allegedly asked for $250] to me.”

Dr. Meng’s assertions, however, directly contradicted that of his deputy, Chhoeung Yav Yen, who one day before claimed a poor card only covered the individual whose name is on it, and not his or her whole family. He also said a brain scan cost $250.

Contacted before his wife and daughter’s funeral in Sihanoukville on Thursday, Mr. Phearum said it was difficult to remember the details of his exchanges with staff at the Khmer-Soviet hospital. At the time of the attacks, which took place at about 1:30 a.m., Mr. Phearum was at sea fishing. After returning, learning about his family, and speaking with police, he made his way to Phnom Penh to accompany his wife, child and mother-in-law.

“At the time, I couldn’t remember the names or faces because I was very overwhelmed because of my wife and daughter and I went back and forth to the ICU [intensive care unit] many times,” he said. “My mind is filled with sadness; I cannot think of anything else because of my wife and daughter.”

While Mr. Phearum told a reporter on Wednesday that he had interacted only with one male doctor at the Khmer-Soviet hospital, he said on Thursday that a number of physicians had told him that the brain scan would cost $250, with one female doctor telling him that the price would also cover a blood transfusion.

“Before 9 a.m. [on Wednesday], I met many male doctors and they told me to pay $250 for the head scan,” he said. “After 9 a.m., I went to the room again and there was only a female doctor, and she just told me many times that if I paid $250 [for the scan], then I didn’t need to find blood.”

Follow-up calls to Dr. Meng and Mr. Yav Yen went unanswered on Thursday.

Muoy commune police chief Prak Sophea said officers questioned Mr. Phearum on Thursday and were still investigating the ax attack.

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