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Lawsuits loom for families who abandon patients

Published:Thursday | November 11, 2021 | 12:12 AMEdmond Campbell/Senior Staff Reporter
Dr Christopher Tufton, minister of health and wellness, delivering a statement to Parliament on Wednesday about the state of healthcare in Jamaica.
Dr Christopher Tufton, minister of health and wellness, delivering a statement to Parliament on Wednesday about the state of healthcare in Jamaica.

As neglected families in hospitals continue to deprive patients of critical bed spaces, Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton says the Government is taking steps to initiate legal action against their relatives who have abandoned them.

“We have engaged a legal team that is preparing the files, and in the New Year, the plan is to make a bold statement around this issue,” the health minister declared.

At present, there are 174 people occupying bed spaces even though they have been discharged from the health facilities.

In a statement to Parliament on Wednesday, Tufton said there were instances in which relatives have left their family members to languish in hospitals, compromising resources that could be channelled to needier patients.

Tufton said that beginning in January 2022, the Government would begin the process of testing the legal system by filing civil lawsuits against delinquent families.

Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte has suggested that the health minister could use the Maintenance Act, which addresses the neglect of persons in need of care.

According to Malahoo Forte, the Maintenance Act places an obligation on children who are not minors to maintain their parents.

She signalled that a department of government or the local authority could make an application to the court for children to support their parents in need of care.

The attorney general explained that under the law, the court could order that relatives of individuals in state care make payment to the local authority. She said that the court could also make other orders based on particular circumstances.

Tufton told his parliamentary colleagues that the ministry had knowledge of persons who were receiving pensions from overseas, but relatives have refused to use these funds to support them in hospital.

“We know of instances where persons have been abandoned in hospital, and relatives have rented their property and refuse to use these resources to care for the owners of the property,” he said.

The health and wellness minister also sounded a warning to some Jamaicans who park relatives in hospitals during the Christmas season so that they don’t have the burden of caring for them.

“This practice is usually done for the aged and infirmed. This practice exacerbates the problems of overcrowding in hospital as it is also the time of year when we see more admissions,” he said.

edmond.campbell@gleanerjm.com