Trauma centers fail injured boy, grandmother

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Trauma centers fail injured boy, grandmother

Two-year-old Kim Min-geon was walking home from day care with his 72-year-old grandmother and 4-year-old sister in Jeonju, North Jeolla, on Sept. 30. They crossed a driveway and Kim and his grandmother were struck by a reversing tow truck. The sister witnessed the entire scene.

Kim and his grandmother were immediately taken to a nearby university hospital, but turned away: every operating room was occupied.

Their problems had just begun.

The hospital started contacting other medical institutes, mostly trauma centers, across the nation. One by one, they were asked to take the two injured patients. Thirteen said their operating rooms were full or they didn’t have enough doctors for the kind of surgery that was necessary.

Ajou University Hospital in Suwon, Gyeonggi, around 180 kilometers (112 miles) north of Jeonju, finally gave a nod. A helicopter arrived to transport Kim. His grandmother, who was more severely injured, was told to stay at the Jeonju hospital and wait a while longer for an operating room to empty. Doctors were afraid she wouldn't make the trip.

By the time Kim arrived at Ajou University Hospital, seven hours had passed since the accident.

About four hours into an operation, Kim died. Two hours later, his grandmother did too.

“I just can’t believe that my little boy went without an operation for over six hours,” Kim’s mother, 42, told Yonhap News Agency. “It’s nonsense that [the hospital] had to contact each and every trauma center separately for the procedure.”

Korea’s system, the distraught mother stressed, is “crippled.”

“Just thinking about my son and mother, I get so resentful of the world,” she added.

Kim’s father, also interviewed by Yonhap, said he started warning his friends and families about Korea’s poor medical system. “It could happen to anybody,” he said.

According to statistics released late last month by Rep. Choi Do-ja of the People’s Party, it already has — several times. Since a Korean ship captain was shot by Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden and flown back to be successfully treated at Ajou University Hospital in 2011, Korea has expanded its trauma center network. It now has nine centers nationwide.

Of the 3,526 people who visited a center last year, 85 (2.4 percent) were illegally transferred to a different hospital, according to a report submitted to Rep. Choi by the Ministry of Health and Welfare and the National Medical Center. The government has funded the centers with a total of 200 billion won ($179.2 million) over the past three years.

In one case, a trauma center refused to operate on a patient because he or she “wasn’t injured enough,” or failed to meet the legal medical threshold to receive care at a trauma center. On a scale of 1 to 75 on the Injury Severity Score, which measures trauma severity, patients must be graded 15 or over to be treated at a trauma center.

It later turned out, however, that the patient had a score of 22, according to the report.

In a different case, a level 30 patient was said to have been left in an intensive care unit for about two consecutive days. The patient reportedly was transferred to a different hospital when his or her caregiver requested to seek help elsewhere. Rep. Choi urged an audit of local trauma centers.


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

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