Hospital’s late response to outbreak is questioned

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Hospital’s late response to outbreak is questioned

The prosecution is preparing an investigation into one of the nation’s top hospitals over its failure to provide a timely response to health authorities during the outbreak of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) earlier this year, officials said Tuesday.

Suseo Police Precinct in Seoul said that it had forwarded the case to the prosecution, suspecting that Samsung Medical Center and its former president, Song Jae-hoon, violated the Infectious Diseases Control and Prevention Act during the MERS outbreak that first surfaced in May.

“We believe the hospital and the president reported more than 1,000 suspected MERS patients to the health authority two to 28 days after the required deadline, from June 3 to July 3 this year,” a police officer said. “Regardless of their intent, we believe they violated the law when they diagnosed the suspected MERS cases and did not report them.”

The law stipulates that medical facilities that diagnosed suspected cases of diseases prevalent in foreign countries must promptly report the cases to local health centers.

“I did not know that I had to report the suspected cases and I did not intentionally delay the reports,” Song said Tuesday.

In a briefing the same day, Samsung Medical Center explained that the delay was a miscommunication between the hospital and the health authority.

“We misunderstood the guidelines given by the Ministry of Health and Welfare; there was no reason to intentionally delay reporting our MERS test results, as the Gangnam Health Center claims,” a hospital official said.

“The ministry sent us a document on June 10 to request that we report positive test results to the local health center, and we sent the positive results as well as the tests that had ambiguous results.

“When the outbreak expanded, we asked the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention whether we needed to report the negative results on June 16, and KCDC said yes. That’s why we could not immediately report some results between June 10 and 16, and none of those patients were later found to have contracted the disease.”

MERS, a fatal respiratory disease prevalent in the Middle East, was confirmed for the first time in Korea on May 20.

Patient No. 1 was reported to be a 68-year-old man who had just returned from a 16-day business trip to the Middle East that spanned Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

The disease spread across the country, primarily in Seoul and Gyeonggi, infecting 186 people and killing 37.

Patient No. 152, died on Oct. 25, raising the fatality rate from the MERS outbreak to 19.9 percent.

BY KIM MIN-KWAN AND KIM BONG-MOON [kim.bongmoon@joongang.co.kr]

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