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Hospitals demanding exorbitant deposits for Covid-19 patients

Families are struggling to find beds in hospital for severely ill Covid-19 patients, and where a bed is found, they have to part with hundreds of thousands of shillings in deposit before admission.

For six hours, Winnie Oketch’s family struggled to get a bed in hospitals in Nairobi. Phone calls were made from hospital to hospital, to no avail.

At exactly 11:55am on Wednesday, March 31, they made the first call to Kenyatta National Hospital requesting an intensive care unit (ICU) bed, since the 48-year-old had started developing breathing difficulties.

The phone was engaged for almost 20 minutes before went through.

“Right now, all the beds are full and we are not admitting,” said the voice on the other end.

“Can’t we get a bed at the High Dependency Unit for her to be stabilised?” asked her son, Michael Otieno.

“I am sorry but all the beds are occupied,” was the response.

At the time, the family was moving around with the patient looking for space.

The next call was to the Kenyatta University Teaching and Referral Hospital. Unfortunately, there was no space. Mbagathi Hospital was also full.

Private hospitals

However, the family was afraid of making a call to private hospitals because they did not have enough money to pay as deposit before treatment.

“What is the age of the patient?” asked a nurse at one of the private hospitals in Nairobi. She said she was not sure there was space, and was checking.

The family was already on the move there. When they got to the entrance of the hospital, they made another call to the same hospital, and were asked how they would pay the bill in case they got space.

“We have a deposit of Sh100,000, but we will top up, we just need to start treatment, but we will clear the bill,” said the son.

“I am sorry, we can only take a deposit of at least Sh300,000. In fact, that is the only bed left and I can see another call coming in. I am sorry,” she said, disconnecting the call.

It took the intervention of a Ministry of Health official for the family to get a bed in Mbagathi Hospital’s normal ward.

“We are lucky we got space. The patient is stabilising, though still under care,” said the son.

Ventilator support

Oxygen is the key intervention patients with the virus are put on in hospital and it is also used when weaning patients off ventilator support. As lungs become damaged, blood oxygen levels can drop alarmingly, a condition called hypoxaemia, which can be fatal.

Unavailability of beds in hospital has been a big problem, with patients being shunted from one hospital to another as the number of severely ill patients continues to rise.

This exposes the frustrations families are undergoing to have their sick relatives admitted, amidst a third wave of the deadly contagion sweeping across the country.

Sharp increases in Covid-19 patients have overwhelmed hospitals and this might result in many deaths.

Private hospitals are demanding deposits of up to Sh600,000 before admitting Covid-19 patients amid a scramble by the critically ill for limited ICU beds.

At Nairobi Hospital, which has a capacity of 35 ICU beds, a deposit of Sh600,000 is required before admission to the Covid-19 ICU or the hospital’s main ICU.

At Kenyatta National Hospital, one has to part with Sh200, 000 to access the ICU.

At Mater Hospital, a Sh600, 000 deposit is needed for a Covid-19 patient. For other patients, the amount for the HDU and ICU is Sh150,000 and Sh200,000, respectively. The cost of setting up an ICU is also quite high. A standard ICU room costs between Sh7 million and Sh8 million to set up.