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Hospital under investigation after woman's death

May 6, 2013 8:17 P.M. (Updated: May 17, 2013 11:58 A.M.)
By: Husam Hilmi
TULKAREM (Ma'an) -- The Ministry of Health has ordered a Tulkarem hospital to close temporarily after a woman died following a procedure performed by a doctor lacking a Palestinian medical license.

Ministry spokesman Omar Nasser told Ma'an that health authorities decided to close the private Palestine Red Crescent Society Hospital in Tulkarem amid an inquiry into the death of Yara Melhem.

But the hospital was still operating Monday, a Ma'an reporter observed, and officials there said they had not received any information from the ministry about a temporary closure.

The exact cause of the woman's death hours after delivering a healthy baby has not been established, but hospital officials acknowledged that a doctor overseeing her Caesarean section lacked a Palestinian medical license.

The director of the hospital, Irfan Tanbouz, said the unnamed doctor was only licensed by a Jordanian medical board and was not authorized to perform the operation unsupervised.

The lack of a Palestinian license means the hospital can be held liable for the death, according to Saed Hanoun, the head of the health directorate in Tulkarem.

Legally, he said, citizens can sue any medical establishment that allows doctors, nurses, or healthcare providers to practice without first obtaining a Palestinian medical license.

'Where is the ministry'

The health ministry's investigation coincides with a lawsuit brought by the husband of the victim, Izzat Melham, who says he was repeatedly misled about his wife's condition as it deteriorated.

"At first the doctor told me her situation was good; then, she told me a bleeding was controlled, then she said it wasn't controlled. She once said she wanted to call her husband (a licensed doctor). They were like playing … I don't know how to describe what was going on," Melhem said.

"I asked the director of the hospital about my wife's condition and he simply said she was 100 percent. They only wanted her to leave their hospital."

He says another doctor eventually determined that removing his wife's womb might stop the bleeding, but it was too late. After she underwent the second surgery, medics asked for a unit of blood, and then another. In total, 17 units were brought to replace the lost blood, the widower says.

Only later was Melhem told there might be a need to transfer his wife to a larger hospital in Nablus, and after some hesitation she was transferred to Rafedia Hospital, where she was admitted to the ICU. That's when he discovered that the doctor who monitored his wife's delivery did not have a Palestinian license.

"Where is the ministry of health's role in monitoring doctors, and how could hospitals contract doctors who do not have a Palestinian license?" Melhem wondered.

He also accused health officials of failing to act even after his wife's death.

"My wife died four days ago, and I haven't seen a minister of health, or any official or anybody whosoever addressing the case. It is only you my colleagues and friends stirring this case," said Melham, who works as a photographer.

"If it was someone else, what would have happened to this case?"

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