Hospital Denies Treatment to Woman in Labor

A 27-year-old woman in labor was turned away by staff at a referral hospital in Phnom Penh’s Russei Keo district on Tuesday and later gave birth to a baby girl on a small patch of dirt next to the city’s railroad. 

Ministry of Health officials on Wednesday expressed regret about the hospital’s behavior and said the midwife responsible for denying treatment had been transferred to another department inside the hospital.

Chea Chet went in to labor in the morning and made her way to Samdech Euv Referral Hospital, where she said a midwife told her that hospital staff were not working.

Heading home through the poor neighborhood that skirts the railroad, Ms. Chet gave birth outdoors without any medical assistance. While both the mother and the baby survived the ordeal and are now recuperating in Calmette Hospital, Ms. Chet and her family on Wednesday condemned the hospital’s actions and claimed they were refused treatment because they are poor.

With her newborn baby nestled in colorful fleece blankets by her bedside, Ms. Chet was all smiles as she received visits from health officials and family.

“I haven’t decided what her name is yet. She weighs 2.2 kilograms,” she said. “I am very hap­py and I feel so lucky that she is healthy.”

But her 78-year-old grandmother, Chea Noeun, who was with Ms. Chet when she was turned away, gave a more harrowing account of the baby’s birth.

Ms. Chet went into labor on Tuesday morning in Kilometr Pram Muoy commune while her husband was at work, and Ms. Noeun took her to the referral hospital by motorbike.

“But the midwife there rejected admitting her. They told us that all doctors and midwives were not working that day,” said Ms. Noeun, adding that she had borrowed 20,000 riel, about $5, from their neighbors to pay the hospital bill.

“She started to give birth around 11:40 a.m. as we were driving on a motorbike on our way back home, and so we had to deliver the baby along the railway tracks,” Ms. Noeun said. “I was the one who cut the umbilical cord.”

As news of her incredible delivery spread, local broadcaster ABC radio station called Calmette Hospital to send an ambulance for Ms. Chet and her newborn daughter, Ms. Noeun said.

“I request to doctors to please don’t discriminate and hate on the poor people, and please help us so that we don’t suffer,” she said.

Tuesday’s dramatic case is just one of many cases across the country where the poor are denied proper treatment when unable to pay the hospital.

In December, a 7-year-old boy died after he was refused treatment by a Banteay Meanchey hospital for a venomous snakebite, because doctors said the anti-venom in stock was being kept for volunteer students taking part in Prime Minister Hun Sen’s land-titling program.

Youk Sambath, director-general of the Ministry of Health’s finance and administrative department, condemned the hospital’s behavior on Wednesday but did not say why the midwife in question had not been completely removed from the hospital.

“We are working hard to strengthen our doctors’ morality to avoid faults like these, but this was carelessness of our doctors and staff so we will take action,” she said during a visit to Ms. Chet’s ward in Calmette.

Ms. Sambath added that she had donated a baby rocker and other necessities, as well as 2 million riel, or about $500, on behalf of Health Minister Mam Bun Heng.

“I feel a lot of regret for [this case], but as the Ministry of Health, we try not to have any problems like this because we provide a lot of training to the staff, especially to those who are delivering babies,” Ms. Sambath said.

Phan Phearath, director of the Samdech Euv Referral Hospital’s operational district office, said the midwife who turned Ms. Chet away, Hoeu Povpich, has been transferred to the administrative department, while eight other hospital officials have been “educated and advised” on the case. Ms. Povpich has been working as a midwife for more than 20 years, he said.

“When I asked her why she turned [Ms. Chet] away, she said that she was shocked when she saw how much blood she had and how pale she was. She was afraid that [Ms. Chet] would die, so she told her to go to another hospital,” Mr. Phearath said.

He also denied that his hospital turned away people who were poor, explaining that it often provides services before requesting payment.

“However, I recognize that there may be individual cases of midwives or doctors who might not be so good or know the rules.”

Ms. Noeun said she hoped the newborn child would be called Sen Samnang, or “extremely lucky.”

“This child has brought luck to our family,” she said. “I will call this baby Sen Samnang.”

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