SARS donations largely unused

By Lin Hsiang-mei and Stacy Hsu  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

Sun, Apr 28, 2013 - Page 1

A decade after the SARS outbreak that killed about 800 people worldwide, including 73 in Taiwan, nearly half of the NT$290 million (US$9.73 million) donated to the Taipei City Government to help combat the epidemic remained unused as of last month, the city’s Department of Social Welfare statistics showed.

After the epidemic wrought havoc in 2003, donations started pouring into Taipei, where the then-Taipei Municipal Hoping Hospital — the predecessor of Taipei City Hospital’s Heping Fuyou Branch — was sealed off for two weeks due to a SARS outbreak in the hospital.

In response, the city government established a donations management committee to oversee the NT$295.13 million that was collected in total.

Social welfare department statistics showed that as of last month, nearly half, or about NT$123.66 million, of the funds remained unused, with NT$171.47 million having been spent on compensation to the families of SARS victims and on medical research programs.

While the department said that it would be open to suggestions on potential uses for the remaining donations in any areas related to epidemic prevention efforts, the committee last month rejected a motion to allocate the funds to bereaved families of medical personnel who died as a result of the epidemic.

The motion was tendered by the city’s Department of Health after it was approached by family members of Chen Ching-chiu (陳靜秋), a head nurse at the Hoping Hospital who contracted SARS while on duty and died 11 days later.

Following the donations given to family members of Lin Chung-wei (林重威), a Hoping Hospital doctor who died of SARS, the department asked the committee to grant NT$4 million from the donations as compensation to the families of each of the six paramedic personnel and janitors — including Chen — who died as a result of the disease.

Lin’s family had received NT$4.13 million in compensation from the donations, in addition to more than NT$17 million allocated by other sources.

However, the committee rejected the motion, saying that the case involving Lin was distinct from those involving the other six victims and that it would be unfair to allocate additional funds to the families.

Defending the decision, the social welfare department said that because Lin fell ill only one month after first reporting for duty and was the only contracted doctor among the five physicians and medical personnel at the Hoping Hospital who succumbed to the disease, neither the Act Governing the Payment of Compensation to Surviving Dependents of Public Functionaries (公務人員撫卹法) nor the Labor Standards Act (勞動基準法) were applicable.

“As a result, Lin’s family was entitled to about NT$17 million in compensation, compared with the more than NT$21 million given to the family of a surgeon at [Kaohsiung] Chang Gung Memorial Hospital who also died of SARS,” the department said.

Department of Health Director Lin Chi-hung (林奇宏) said that given the similar backgrounds of two other deceased physicians, the committee decided to take NT$4.13 million from the donations to narrow the disparity between the amount of compensation handed out to their bereaved families.

“As [the family members of] the six victims have all received between NT$16 million and NT$26 million in condolence payments, it is unnecessary to pay them more using the donations,” Lin Chi-hung said.