According to staff at La Palma’ s General Hospital, the latter simply don’ t answer their calls, asking them to collect their elderly relative.
This hospital is used, regularly, as a dumping ground for bothersome, next-of-kin. There are currently four abandoned senior citizens there, yet between 10 and 20 is the norm.
Initially, the family bring their aged parent or relative to the emergency services because he or she has a severe health problem, ranging from a stroke to cardiac failure.
The patient is admitted and the condition treated, but staff soon begin to realise that family visits are few and far between, if at all. And when no one shows up to collect the patient after discharge, these suspicions are confirmed.
“ Some people can’ t take responsibility for them because they, themselves, are also dependent on someone else, but other cases are shocking, ” said centre director José Izquierdo, who has seen his hospital make headlines on a number of occasions because of this scenario.
“ It’ s not a problem peculiar to here, ” he points out. “ It’ s happening in all hospitals in the Canary Islands and across Spain, because of our increasingly-aged population. ”
And Izquierdo stresses that reporting the worst of these cases to the authorities has met with little success. “ That’ s because the criminal offence of abandonment is not clearly regulated, ” he says. “ And also, because, technically, the people are not abandoned since they are being treated in a hospital. ”
The search then begins for a spot in a nursing home. But, with an increasingly-elderly population on the island, and around 300 places available, it can take up to a year to find one.
Meanwhile, in several cases, the families who abandoned the relative are spending the latter’ s pension, and taking possession of his or her belongings.
And all the while, the taxpayer foots a bill of around 3, 000 euros a month for his or her care at a state-run home.
Izquierdo is requesting better, sterner laws, which will enforce the return of the old person’ s property in the event of abandonment.
This situation affects the general public in other ways, such as delays in scheduled surgeries, through a lack of beds, and, consequently, longer waiting lists. “ We are constantly juggling priorities, ” says Izquierdo.
One 87-year-old man has been living in the hospital since May 2017. He is an independent sort, who simply needs someone to remind him to take his medication at the right time, and help him to prepare meals. But he has no idea why his children don’ t come for him.
“ He says he doesn’ t understand what’ s happening, ” says a staff member. “ He has worked all his life and has his own house. He cries a lot. He says he just wants to be taken away from the hospital, because it is ‘ an ugly place’ where he sees a lot of people ‘ who go away, who die’. ”
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