Police investigate death of elderly Kaohsiung patient

SUFFOCATION?:A head nurse said that she found the patient with a towel stuffed in his mouth while his caregiver was asleep in the room

By Pao Chien-hsin, Ko Yu-hao and Jason Pan  /  Staff reporters, with staff writer

Sat, Dec 07, 2013 - Page 4

Police in Greater Kaohsiung are investigating the death of an octogenarian, suspecting that he might have been suffocated by his caregiver on Sunday.

According to a police report, the suspect is a woman surnamed Huang (黃), who was hired to look after the patient at the Kaohsiung Medical University Hospital (KMUH).

The patient, surnamed Lee (李), had nasopharyngeal carcinoma and required full-time care.

Huang, a Chinese in her 50s who is married to a Taiwanese, had recently received her residency papers and was hired to look after Lee because his family had to work throughout the week.

The report said that because of his condition, Lee often groaned in pain and coughed intermittently. On Saturday, Huang allegedly stuffed a small towel into his mouth to quiet him down, police said.

A head nurse who was doing her rounds in the early hours of Sunday morning saw Lee with the towel stuffed in his mouth, while Huang was asleep in the room, police said.

The nurse said Lee appeared to be suffering from respiratory failure, and died shortly after despite attempts to resuscitate him.

An autopsy is being conducted to determine whether Lee died because of his illness or due to suffocation.

Police said that Huang had admitted during questioning to placing the towel in Lee’s mouth, saying she did not think it would have such serious consequences.

Several Taiwanese caregivers at KMUH said they were not surprised at all when they heard about the case. They said that some Chinese caregivers tend to neglect their responsibilities, are sloppy and can sometimes be rough and abusive toward their patients.

“The incident is only the tip of the iceberg,” they said.

A veteran head nurse at KMUH who declined to be named said that a large number of the caregivers and nursing aides at major hospitals in Taiwan are Chinese immigrant spouses.

“However, most patients’ families still ask for Taiwanese caregivers. This is because many of the caregivers from China pay little attention on the job and are only good at putting on a show,” she said.

“When family members come for a visit, they put in extra effort to give the impression that they are attentive, but when the families leave, they go to other in-patients’ rooms to gossip with their compatriots,” she said.

“They also take long meal breaks, going out for one to two hours to run their own errands or talk to friends,” she added.

Another veteran nurse said that when she is on night duty, “I always find the Chinese caregivers sleeping away. Some were even snoring louder than the patients.”

“They would have no idea if something urgent happened to the patients,” she said.