Locked in closed isolated structure drills, subjected to 24 security surveillance and starved is what describes the lives of patients who fail to clear medical bills in private hospitals.
James Obonyo, is one such case. Obonyo, 58, was rushed by a neighbor to a private hospital in Nakuru town. At the time of his admission Obonyo had depression but would later develop high blood pressure during his detention after he failed to clear accumulated medical bill.
“Poverty is bad. It is tough being locked in a hospital because of failing to raise medical bill. It is more than being a prisoner despite undergoing healing process” says Obonyo.
The father of five was admitted at the hospital on April 12, last year as an emergency and was placed under specialized care at the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) for three days.
On April 19, 2019 he was discharged but could not raise accumulated medical bill of Sh492, 000.
He presented a title deed and its evaluation to management as surety but was not discharged, he was locked at an isolation room at the facility.
“Treatment at the private hospital was perfect but on discharge, I was removed from normal wards and locked in an isolated room that was my home for almost a year,” said Obonyo.
Life at the hospital after detention was not easy for Obonyo as he was expected to manage his high blood pressure condition.
Meals served he says were not of standard- he would receive a cup of tea at 6am with two slices of bread.
Missing lunch was a norm at the hospital where individuals locked for failing to clear bill are served after patients in wards.
To Obonyo, meals were of low nutrition for example the management would provide them with hot water for soup and each single day, they were provided with 300ml bottle of water for 24 hours.
“The earliest time I ever received lunch was 4.30pm, meals that were mostly mixed with water because detained patients are not valued,” he says.
For one year under the locked room, Obonyo can remember number of times he was allowed to bask in the sun.
He would brave cold in the rooms whenever there was no guard to monitor his movement while basking in the sun that was restricted from 10am to around 2pm.
The worst experience for him was death of his first born son Joh Owak, who died last October while he was locked up at the hospital.
He pleaded with management to allow him give him a decent send off, a plea that was ignored.
His aunt also died but the management would not allow him join members of his family for burial.
“News of death of my son got me by shock and I wanted to go lay him to rest but lack of money confined me behind grills at the hospital,” narrates Obonyo.
January 16, remains a memorable day for Obonyo who was overwhelmed by joy as he walked out of the hospital to join members of his family.
This was after negotiation between the hospital management and Kenya National Human Rights Commission (KNHRC) that visited the facility after receiving complaints on detention of patients.
He was expected to pay Sh1.6 million but after negotiation, he is expected to clear a bill of Sh700, 000.
“I am happy and at liberty. At least I have peace of mind even if I am expected to pay the money,” says Obonyo who says he is speaking to his friends to help raise the money.
Mercy Chebet Koech also wrote her Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) at a private hospital but could not transit to secondary school after her family failed to raise accumulated medical bill of Sh2.5 million.
A former pupil at Queen of the Holy Rosary-Kabarak, Koech wrote her KCPE at the hospital bed in November 2017 and garnered 232 marks out of the expected 500 marks.
A minor by then, she expected to join Mercy Girls high school in Ravine and later study nursing, her dream career but her dream was shut, thanks to accumulated medical bill- she was detained at the private facility.
At the facility, Mercy used to spend most of her time praying that well-wishers would come to her rescue and clear the bill.
At some point, she escaped from the hospital but she was arrested and locked up at the isolation ward.
“Every day I used to go on my knees, pray that well-wishers come my way so that I join my peers. I am happy to be freed, life at the hospital was frustrating,” she recalls.
Koech from Ol Rongai area, Rongai Sub County was admitted at the private facility on July 5, 2017.
She was admitted at the facility after ingesting poison following a disagreement with her biological mother.
On admission, she was taken to Intensive Care Unit (ICU) where she was for at least one week and would later be taken to normal ward for more examination and treatment.
After discharge, her parents were not able to raise money to offset the accumulated bill of Sh400, 000, money that accumulated to Sh3 million after detention.
Her mother Hannah Cherotich said she is looking for a school to enroll her, even though she delayed.
“I am happy for release of my daughter and to enable her become productive, I am looking for a school to enroll her,” said the mother.
Another victim of detention Miriam Wangare on her part had accumulated bill of Sh200, 000, money that accumulated to Sh4 million following detention.
The 23 year old from Lanet was admitted at a private facility on December 9, 2017 after taking poison.
She was taken to ICU for two days and on December 13, she was discharged.
“Being released is through God’s grace and I am happy that I can be able to relate with my siblings and mother,” says Wangare.
A family in Kiamunyi, outskirts of Nakuru town can also not bury their father after his body was held by a hospital
Eutychus Mwaura passed on while undergoing treatment on July 14, 2018 and his body detained over unpaid medical bill.
The family of four children is not able to raise money to clear a bill of Sh2.5 million for release of the body to send of Mwaura who died after being diagnosed with multiple diseases namely, diabetes Type 2, hypertension and depression.
Mwaura’s daughter Mildred Mumbi said the family has only managed to fundraise Sh120, 000 out of a debt of Sh2.5 million expected to be cleared before release of the body.
The deceased was admitted at the hospital on November 18, 2017 having developed diabetic complications and on examination, he was diagnosed with hypertension.
He was treated and discharged on November 30, 2017, but he did not have Sh500, 000 medical bill. The management detained him, and as a result, he suffered depression and would be re-admitted at the ward.
Mwaura’s condition did however not improve leading to his death on July 14, 2018. On his death, there was an accumulated bill of Sh2.3 million and because his unemployed children could not raise the money, his body was further detained.
Currently, the family is expected to clear a bill of Sh2.5 million to be given the body for burial.
Charges for the morgue for first month is Sh1, 000 daily and on second month, the amount increases to Sh1, 500.
“Bill for holding my father's body keeps on increasing with Sh1, 500 and this has devastated entire family because we have no means of raising the money,” said Mumbi.
KNHRC senior human rights officer Koome Miriti told The Standard in an interview that detention of patients for failing to clear medical bill is infringement of human rights.
Mr Miriti said hospitals should only charge patients medical bills and not charges accumulated for holding them after discharge.
Asked about losses facilities would incur, the officer said the hospital management decide to risk their business by detaining patients, because there was no law that directs anybody to be locked up for failing to raise money for bills.
“Detention bill is a risk hospital management decide to take because they are in business. KNHRC is not saying patients should not pay, they should pay medical bills,” said the officer.
Miriti said Ministry of Health should come up with an emergency healthcare guidelines to address payment of bills.
A large number of patients received in private facilities according to the commission are received in private hospitals under emergency services who do not make conscious decision on where to receive treatment and that nobody should be denied access to medical care.
Efforts by The Standard to get a comment from the Ministry of health on emergency guidelines policy remained futile. Director of medical services Dr Jackson Kioko did not pick calls neither respond to text messages.