Patients transferred as hospitals shut down over NHIF fraud

Jekim Hospital in Nkubu, Meru County, has been closed following a scandal involving the National Hospital Insurance Fund that has affected several hospitals in Meru, Kirinyaga and Nairobi. [Phares Mutembei, Standard]

As investigations into suspected fraud committed against National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF) continues to gather pace, patients admitted in some facilities under probe are in limbo.

Relatives and patients seeking services from hospitals in Meru and Kirinyaga counties were left stranded after the facilities shut down and transferred patients to other facilities.

The scandal is said to have emerged after patients died and huge amounts of money were deducted from their NHIF accounts, with some losing as much as Sh300,000. The victims are said to have died following administration of injections and tablets for chronic arthritis.

In Nkubu, a spot check at Jekim Hospital, consultation rooms remained closed, with the staff saying this would go on until further notice.

Jekim Hospital administrator Edith Gatwiri said they are checking patients out of the facility to allow for investigations.

Relatives and friends arrived at the facility and ferried their ailing kin to other hospitals using private cars as the management turned away those seeking treatment at the outpatient section.

Ms Gatwiri said it was unfortunate they had to halt operations pending ongoing investigations as ordered by the government.

However, Jekim Hospital director John Kirimi distanced himself from the scandal, even as his hospital was closed pending investigations.

Dr Kirimi said all his hospital did were X-rays for the patients before being taken to hospitals in Nairobi.

Giddiel Kithinji, who suffered from arthritis and died on March 30 this year. [Phares Mutembei, Standard]

"My facility was not involved in offering the treatment and, as we speak, we have not been paid for the X-rays done there," he said.

In Kirinyaga, Afya Bora hospitals remained closed. A secretary who picked up a phone call, only identifying herself as Liz, said they were not admitting patients and directed callers to other facilities.

Afya Bora has outlets in Kagio and Mwea towns focusing mainly on admissions.

The concerns came to light after Salesio Thuranira petitioned the county assembly to investigate the health facilities for "illegal treatment” of some Meru residents by four hospitals.

The other hospitals allegedly involved in the syndicate are within Mwea (Kirinyaga), Kinoo, Eastleigh and Ruai (Nairobi).

Thuranira said a resident disguised himself as a doctor and went around villages looking for arthritis patients with valid health insurance cards.

Most of the victims complained of having lost health insurance money.

At least two of the 12 victims named in the petition are said to have succumbed following surgery for the said arthritis.

The Standard visited the home of Giddiel Kithinji, who suffered from arthritis and died on March 30, this year.

National Hospital Insurance Fund headquarters in Nairobi. [File, Standard]

His mother, Brigit Joseph, brother Wilfred Kaaria and daughter Charity Ntinyari, are still crestfallen following Kithinji's death.

Kithinji went to Nairobi but Kaaria said he had misgivings about the trip.

"He had no other health issues apart from bent knees, but the arthritis bothered him. He was desperate to walk around and go to church with ease. When he was told surgery would cure him, he jumped at the opportunity," Kaaria said.

His mother said he called her before he was taken to the theatre, after which the hospital called the family to send more money.

"They called and asked us for Sh100, 000 but while we were fundraising, my brother passed away," Kaaria said.  

The family insists their relative was in good health before he went to the facility and wants investigations into what could have led to his death.

"He only had arthritis, no other complications. We need to know the truth and get justice," he said.

Late last year, Douglas Kiraithe said he was lured by the group purporting to offer relief to arthritis patients and was taken to Jekim Hospital at Nkubu before being driven to Joy Nursing Home in Nairobi.

"We arrived in Nairobi at 3 am and were admitted. We were not even given a bed, so some of us slept on a couch. We were discharged at 6 pm. I was given an injection and some tablets, later Sh130,000 was deducted from my NHIF card," Kiraithe recalls.

Harriett Kagwiria was also ferried to Joy Nursing Home where she received an injection.

"The doctor there told me that only my leg was cold and I did not have to be operated on. They said the injection will help me," she said. Kwiria's NHIF account had Sh150,000 deducted.

We asked for a medical report to enable us to get the medicine back in Meru but the hospital declined.

"They hurried us into a matatu and were driven back to Meru where we arrived at 4 am," she said, adding that her arthritis has worsened since the treatment.