Wed, Dec 20, 2017 - Page 3 News List

Sanatorium in Kaohsiung hotbed of disease: groups

INHUMANE?An official said conditions at Lungfatang were ‘shocking’ during inspections, with one patient chained to his bed and pacing over puddles of urine

By Fang Chih-hsien, Su Fu-nan and Jonathan Chin  /  Staff reporters, with staff writer

A dozen mental health groups on Monday criticized Kaohsiung’s Lungfatang (龍發堂) psychiatric care facility, alleging inhumane conditions and outbreaks of infectious diseases at the sanatorium.

The Alliance for the Mentally Ill and other groups started a petition urging public action against Lungfatang, after the Kaohsiung Department of Health earlier that day said the sanatorium failed multiple health inspections this year.

The department said that from July to last month it conducted several inspections, which discovered 32 cases of amebic dysentery and nine cases of tuberculosis at the sanatorium.

Overcrowding, inadequate staff and uncleanliness have contributed to the occurrence of disease clusters at Lungfatang, the department said, adding that the sanatorium — an eight-story complex, including a basement — houses about 500 residents, but has fewer than 20 staff, none of whom are qualified medical professionals.

The residents have an average living space of 4 ping (13.2m2), it said.

The facility does not have enough toilets, while the ones it does have are antiquated, with some consisting of open gutters and others lacking flushing mechanisms, resulting in the unsanitary conditions, it added.

The department said it has fined the sanatorium nearly NT$700,000 (US$23,341) for contravening the Communicable Disease Control Act (傳染病防治法) and the Mental Health Act (精神衛生法), as well as food safety and sanitation regulations.

At a news conference held by the civil groups, department official Su Shu-fang (蘇淑芳) said the conditions at the facility were “shocking.”

She said that during one official inspection she saw a patient who was tethered to his bed with chains and wearing no clothes on his lower body pacing over puddles of urine.

“I have worked in mental health for more than 30 years and I have never seen such inhumane treatment of a patient,” Su said.

Lungfatang suffers from a chronic shortage of mental health experts and sanitation management for its many residents, alliance president Lee Li-chuan (李麗娟) said.

Patients have limited access to modern medicines or therapy, the crude accommodations offer no privacy and the facility has repeatedly failed sanitation and health inspections, making it a hotbed of disease, she said.

Families who have left their loved ones at Lungfatang should immediately relocate them to licensed mental health facilities so that they can receive the therapy and rehabilitation they deserve, she added.

The department said it is aware the sanatorium has antiqued facilities and low-quality care.

A project to transform the facility into an elderly care center is in limbo, because the sanatorium’s management has refused to modernize equipment, it added.

Lungfatang yesterday responded to the allegations, saying that it does not accept the criticism leveled against it, because it was “blown out of proportion.”

The Buddhist sanatorium’s abbess, self-styled Master Xinshan (心善法師), said she apologizes for the outbreaks of disease at Lungfatang, but added that NT$3.2 million has been spent to improve facilities since July.

She said the man cited by Su was tethered to his bed because he had a violent tantrum over his lunch being delayed by the inspection, adding that the treatment was “not inhumane.”

She denied charges that Lungfatang refused to comply with the law, saying the Kaohsiung City Government did not grant it a permit to rezone the property, which is needed to change its operation.

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