Heat regulations leave hospital patients cold

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Heat regulations leave hospital patients cold

The government’s measure to conserve energy this winter is leaving patients, including the elderly and pregnant, shivering in their hospital beds as central heating is cut.

After suffering from an occasional lack of warmth in her extremities, one 25-year-old office employee from Songpa District, Lee Yeon-ju, recently sought out an Eastern medicine clinic for treatment that backfired.

Lee stated, “As I was lying down getting acupuncture on my stomach, I was shocked when I felt cold air from the ventilation shaft in the ceiling.”

When she complained “it’s too cold,” her doctor finally cranked up the space heater and stuffed the shafts with tissues to block the draft.

A practitioner at the clinic stated, “There are many complaints from patients, as the landlord, in order to lower the indoor temperature to the government recommended 18-20 degrees Celsius (64-68 Fahrenheit), intentionally circulated cold air [throughout the building] between 1 to 6 p.m.”

Employees of the clinic have to layer clothes and resort to blankets to cover their legs to keep warm during work hours.

In December, the government started major conservation measures and the Ministry of Knowledge Economy asked buildings and industrial plants that use more than 1,000 kilowatts of electricity to cut electricity use by 10 percent during the peak hours.

Hospitals are not exempt from conservation measures and have cut down on central heating in their buildings, much to the dismay of patients.

Frigid temperatures indoors - below that of room temperature - can especially put a toll on chronically ill patients with low immunity.

Dr. Yu Jae-myung of Hallym University Kangnam Sacred Heart Hospital said, “While an indoor temperature of 18 to 20 degrees Celsius will not have much of an effect on regular patients, it can pose a problem for patients who suffer from chronic disease such as diabetes or the elderly or pregnant.”

In the case of diabetic patients, if their blood sugar level goes up in cold temperatures, their blood vessels may contract which can induce serious complications such as strokes.

One 78-year-old diabetic patient surnamed Park, hospitalized in a general hospital in Seongnam, Gyeonggi, over Lunar New Year stated: “When I appealed to the nurse because the hospital room felt cold, I was given more blankets, but it was difficult to manage my blood sugar level.”

She left the hospital on Wednesday.

Women undergoing postpartum care may also undergo complications if they spend a prolonged time in cold temperatures.

Smaller hospitals and clinics in buildings with central heating cannot catch a break either because building owners are hung up on regulating temperatures since they can be fined up to 300 million won ($267,248) if their buildings are found by district officials to exceed the government recommended indoor temperature more than once.

“Though there are no exact statistics, there are a considerable number of small-scale hospitals and clinics in buildings with a central heating system,” said one medical industry insider.

The only way they can slightly alleviate the cold is to resort to space heaters, electric mattresses and blankets. But overusing space heaters can lead to dryness in the air which raises respiratory concerns for patients.

By Park Tae-gyun [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]
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