‘No one to treat us’: Korean hospitals are dumping patients, forcing nurses to use PTO

Posted on : 2024-02-22 16:41 KST Modified on : 2024-02-22 16:41 KST
The Hankyoreh met up with people seeking care at the military and public hospitals that patients have been flocking to after being abruptly discharged from hospitals where they were being treated in Seoul
A man in a wheelchair arrives at the Armed Forces Capital Hospital in Seongnam, just outside of Seoul, on Feb. 21, 2024. He had been in inpatient care at Korea University Guro Hospital for chronic osteomyelitis but was urgently transferred after being told to discharge himself. (Kwak Jin-san/The Hankyoreh)
A man in a wheelchair arrives at the Armed Forces Capital Hospital in Seongnam, just outside of Seoul, on Feb. 21, 2024. He had been in inpatient care at Korea University Guro Hospital for chronic osteomyelitis but was urgently transferred after being told to discharge himself. (Kwak Jin-san/The Hankyoreh)

“We were told that my husband had to be discharged since there weren’t enough doctors. But his wounds just wouldn’t heal at home, so that’s why we’re here.”
 
This is what a 59-year-old woman told the Hankyoreh after pushing her husband’s wheelchair into the Armed Forces Capital Hospital waiting room on Wednesday. 

The woman’s husband had been diagnosed with chronic osteomyelitis, an inflammation of bone tissue, and had been receiving inpatient care after undergoing surgery at Korea University Guro Hospital. However, on Monday, his doctor advised that he be discharged, stating that the mass resignations of residents and interns had left the hospital with no one to treat patients. 

Out of the five patients in the hospital room that the woman’s husband shared, all but one, who was in critical condition, were essentially discharged and kicked to the curb. 
 
To fill the growing gaps in health care caused by the mass resignations of house staff at hospitals across the country as they protest the Yoon Suk-yeol administration’s plan to increase enrollment slots at medical schools, the government has extended the operating hours of public hospitals and opened military hospitals to the public.
 
Several patients who had been unable to receive treatment at university hospitals and other institutions turned to the Armed Forces Capital Hospital and the National Medical Center, located in Seoul’s Jung District. The Hankyoreh visited these two hospitals to speak to those most affected by the ongoing developments: patients and their caretakers. 
 
A 56-year-old individual the Hankyoreh spoke to had been turned away from the Seoul National University Bundang Hospital’s emergency room and came to the Armed Forces Capital Hospital.

“My son broke his jaw the other day, so we needed him in the surgery room as fast as possible. We went to the emergency room, but they just immediately discharged him, saying that they didn’t have doctors to see him,” they said. 
 
The information window next to the Armed Forces Capital Hospital’s waiting room had a sign that read, “We are out of office due to the treatment of civilian trauma patients.”
 
A woman in her 70s who visited the National Medical Center told the Hankyoreh that she had received a text message from Seoul National University Hospital saying that the hospital would need to postpone a neurological examination she had scheduled. 

“They said I would have to wait an inordinate amount of time, so I came to get the examination at the National Medical Center,” the woman said. 
 
As patients arrived at these two treatment centers, across town others were pouring out of Severance Hospital in Sinchon after being discharged. 

“My son has a brain hemorrhage. He was going to go through rehabilitation at this hospital, but they told us that they don’t have rehabilitation specialists on hand now,” said a 64-year-old woman surnamed Kim, whose son was transferred to a local long-term care facility. “Each hospital room only has around one or two patients left in it.”
 

A patient arrives in an ambulance at a university hospital in Seoul on Feb. 21, 2024, as two-thirds of residents and interns have stopped showing up to work in protest of the government’s plan to increase medical school enrollment slots. (Yonhap)
A patient arrives in an ambulance at a university hospital in Seoul on Feb. 21, 2024, as two-thirds of residents and interns have stopped showing up to work in protest of the government’s plan to increase medical school enrollment slots. (Yonhap)


When the Hankyoreh visited Severance on Wednesday, four out of the 12 five-person rooms in the ward on the main hospital wing’s 11th floor were empty. 

“The doctors said that we had no choice but to be discharged because of the mass resignations of physicians. We’ll be going to a hospital in Goyang that the doctors told us about,” another person caring for someone ill told the Hankyoreh’s reporter.
 
Meanwhile, some university hospitals have been forcing nurses to take days off due to the decline in patients in general wards. While physician assistant nurses and intensive care nurses are facing overbearing workloads in the wake of the resignations, their colleagues in general wards are under pressure to use their paid time off. 

“Sunday and Monday weren’t my days off, but as the physicians’ collective action began in earnest, I was told to take a break. I didn’t come to work until Tuesday,” a nurse currently employed at Seoul St. Mary’s Hospital told the Hankyoreh. 
 
Another nurse who works in a ward at Seoul National University Hospital corroborated that claim. “Since more than half of the patients who were in wards have been discharged, we’ve been forced into taking time off and to use up our PTO,” they said. 
 
All the while, PA nurses are still tackling staff shortage problems. “In the surgery department, PAs don’t have night duties, but I heard that one PA has been set a schedule in which they’ll have to work night shifts for an entire month. Lack of staff is leading to unlawful practices,” a nurse working at a tertiary hospital in Seoul told the Hankyoreh. 

By Kim Chae-woon, staff reporter; Kwan Jin-san, staff reporter; Jeong Bong-bi, staff reporter

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