A second nurse from Taipei Municipal Hoping Hospital died from SARS on Sunday, just one day before International Nurses Day. When the hospital was sealed off on April 24, scenes of bottle-throwing protests by some doctors and nurses at the hospital were beamed by TV channels nationwide and abroad. But the outside world had no way of knowing what was actually going on inside the hospital. Now that the quarantine has ended, people have begun to learn why the staff protested so vehemently -- they were unwilling to become victims of human negligence.
Staff members have accused the hospital authorities of hiding SARS cases. President Chen Shui-bian (
Fingers are pointing at Wu Kang-wen (
Taipei's Wanhua District is now enveloped in the gloom of SARS and Taiwan has been designated by the World Health Organization as a seriously affected area. Negligence and incompetence at Hoping Hospital have incurred massive social, health and economic losses for the entire nation.
Wu was sacked yesterday and a new management team has taken over the hospital in order to turn it into a center dedicated to treating SARS patients. But the responsibility for what happened at Hoping has yet to be clarified.
There must be a thorough investigation into the hospital's administration and procedures. The investigators should look for the routes of infection within the hospital, any possible cover-up and dereliction on the part of the hospital's staff and authorities, and possible mishandling of the quarantine. The government must also launch an all-out investigation to pursue medical, administrative and criminal responsibility for what happened at the hospital, to dispense justice on behalf of those medical workers and patients whose lives were sacrificed.
It was a mistake for the Taipei City Government to prevaricate over such a probe. A blame game in the middle of the SARS crisis may been seen as inappropriate, given the potential for hurting morale just at the time it is most needed. But learning what went wrong at Hoping and how the virus spread will help doctors and scientists fighting the disease in this country and elsewhere. Such an investigation will also help officials devise new protocols for dealing with infectious diseases and other medical emergencies.
In the fight against SARS, mistakes caused by ignorance can be forgiven because so little is known about the virus. Missed diagnoses are very easy when the guidelines are not clear or doctors don't know what to look for, as health experts admit happened in Toronto, Singapore and other places hard hit by the virus. But if someone clearly knows a patient has SARS and yet conceals the information -- for whatever reason -- then such mistakes must not be forgiven or forgotten.