Patients in hospital hit by fire were tied to beds

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Patients in hospital hit by fire were tied to beds

A probe into a fire at a private hospital for chronically ill patients in Jangseong County, South Jeolla, that killed 21 and injured eight last week revealed that at least two patients were tied to their beds, the police announced yesterday.

Three police officers questioned during the investigation testified that patients in the hospital had their ankles and wrists bound to their beds by straps and that rescuers had to cut the straps off or evacuate patients still tied to their beds, according to the Jeonnam Provincial Police Agency.

The report contradicted a statement by Lee Min-ho, head of the Damyang Fire Fighters’ Office, at a briefing on the day of the fire on May 28.

“Media reports that some patients were tied to their beds by their wrists were not true,” he said at the time, adding, “Rescuers reported to me that they didn’t cut ropes off any patients.”

The testimony is expected to help police discover why so many lives were lost in the eight minutes between the start of the fire and it being brought under control by firemen.

Lee told the press that day that the fire “was not that big” and that most of the victims died of smoke inhalation.

The long-term care hospital was home to elderly patients with Alzheimer’s disease or other chronic diseases.

Investigators raided the hospital last Thursday to confiscate evidence, focusing on whether the hospital had a proper fire protection system and whether its shift system for nurses and other staff was followed.

They also looked into whether there was any misbehavior by the staff in its management of patients.

“We have some testimony from relatives saying patients who died in the fire had scars on their wrists apparently from being tied to their beds and were given excessive amounts of tranquilizers,” Lim Chae-hwi, a relative of the victims, said last week.

Another relative of a fatality, Kim Do-hyeon, said there was an emergency exit near an elevator on the ward, but it could only be reached after passing through a door controlled by nurses or staff.

Kim claimed the door prevented able-bodied patients from escaping the fire.

The police arrested an 81-year-old patient surnamed Kim suffering from Alzheimer’s disease on suspicion of arson.

Autopsies are being conducted on all 21 victims to verify their causes of death, the police said.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN[selee@joongang.co.kr]
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