PAILIN'S Governor Y Chhien has promised an urgent investigation after a woman died giving birth Sunday at the public hospital in the provincial capital. Staff reportedly refused treatment unless her husband paid US$25, an allegation the hospital denies.
Y Chhien said if the obstetricians involved were found to be guilty of carelessness, they would be sacked or fined.
"Doctors and obstetricians mustn't allow patients to die by refusing them service," Y Chhien said. "This is a public hospital, and it must serve the poor and the wealthy. Regardless of who they are, they must pay attention to patients."
Widower Mith Rorn told the Post that he and his wife, Vorn Yoeub, 37, had gone to the Pailin Referral Hospital on Sunday night.
"Soon after we arrived, the obstetricians said we must pay $25 for their help or they wouldn't take care of my wife," Mith Rorn said. "I begged them to allow me to pay them the following morning after they had saved my wife and baby."
"My wife's stomach got very painful, and I woke up the two obstetricians three times," he continued. "But they ignored me and said it could wait until the morning. But by then it was too late - my wife died during the night."
However, the deputy director of the hospital, Ang Neang, refuted Mith Rorn's account.
"It isn't true that we forced him to pay," Ang Neang said.
"It's true that when patients come to the hospital, we usually ask them to pay to check their health, but we don't force them. We didn't take money from him, and we took good care of his wife even though they could not pay."
Ang Neang said the charge list in the hospital stated that a simple birth costs patients $12, while a complicated birth costs twice that.
Patients who were too poor to pay were never refused treatment.
He said he could not understand why the hospital was being blamed.
"His wife had an accident and slipped when she stood up from the toilet - that caused her to bleed," he said.
Group to probe doctors
The case is also being investigated by rights group Adhoc. Coordinator Chhuon Makara told the Post that the NGO was investigating two key points: whether the doctors involved had breached their professional code of practice, and whether their carelessness had caused Vorn Yoeub's death.
Chhuon Makara said Mith Rorn had arrived at his office in tears explaining the situation, and that he was now left to take care of seven children.
"This is a terrible and very sad story, and I am determined to do my best to help him by conducting my investigation because his family is very poor," Chhuon Makara said.
Mith Rorn told Adhoc that before going to the hospital he had visited the village midwife asking to help his wife at home, as she was in pain and had gone into labour. However, the midwife was unable to assist because there were complications, so she drove the couple to hospital.
There they were told to pay $25 for assistance.
"After finding out that this family of this pregnant woman, who was in pain, had no money to pay, it seems that the obstetricians kept her waiting until she died," he said.
Medical staff at the country's hospitals are very poorly paid, with obstetricians earning just $35 a month, said a staff member at the Pailin Referral Hospital.
"It is very hard for me to assess this case, but if it is found that staff were careless or asked for money, they will be punished, transferred or fired," Veng Thai, director for Phnom Penh's public hospitals said.