The Slovenia Times

Mistaken identity at hospital leads to family burying stranger

Health & Medicine

Celje/Ljubljana - A case of mistaken identity at Celje hospital has led to a family mourning and burying a stranger and the hospital management offering their resignation. Health Minister Danijel Bešič Loredan said that he too would resign if PM Robert Golob found he was also responsible. Golob said the minister was doing a great job.

The mix-up involved two patients of the same age who were transferred to the hospital from the same care home in a single ambulance although two vehicles had been ordered.

One of the men suffered a urinary tract infection and the other had pneumonia, and while communication was impossible with one of them due to dementia, the other could be talked to, according to Bešič Loredan, who met with hospital management earlier today.

Neither of the men were wearing a wrist tag when admitted and the staff identified them based on admittance documents and information from the ambulance crew.

By the time the surviving patient recovered and was sent back to the care home and the mistake became clear on Wednesday afternoon, the dead patient had already been cremated and buried by the surviving patient's family, who had picked up his belongings at the hospital.

The minister said the relatives were not allowed to see the deceased due to Covid restrictions at the hospital. "Covid is not an excuse," said the minister, stressing that hospitals must enable relatives to see their loved ones in such circumstances even if they need to wear a mask, be tested for coronavirus, or wear a hazmat suit.

As the patients were miss-identified, they got wrong ID bracelets and wrong treatment as well but the minister would not speculate whether wrong treatment had caused the death of one of the patients.

He said mistakes had occurred in the "whole healthcare chain", as the diseased was also wrongly identified by a coroner, so he was cremated and buried under a false name.

Hospital director Aleksander Svetelšek, medical director Franc Vindišar and assistant director for nursing care Darja Plank have offered their resignations, which the minister welcomed and the hospital council is set to accept.

Bešič Loredan said that he too would resign if PM Golob found he was also responsible, but Golob said the minister was doing a great job and that if he offered his resignation he could not accept it because of the important reforms planned in healthcare. Regretting the incident, which he labelled inadmissible, he said the persons responsible had already stepped down.

Both Svetelšek and Vindišar apologised to the families of the patients involved, saying there was no excuse. Bešič Loredan has talked to both families and apologised on behalf of himself as the health minister and on behalf of the prime minister.

Fighting tears as he spoke at the press conference, Bešič Loredan said it was unacceptable that such a mistake could happen in a digital age.

A thorough investigation is to be conducted by the ministry, with Bešič Loredan adding that the Medical Chamber would be urged to conduct its own investigation into the case.

The health minister said that his department and the government would make sure nothing like this happened ever again. "It is our job to establish extremely strict oversight, rules of play, by which everybody will have to abide."

Initial analysis has shown that existing mechanisms are imperfect or had not been followed all through the patient's treatment: from the care home to the crematorium, Svetelšek said.

Vindišar said the mistake had become clear after the surviving patient was returned to the care home, where the staff noticed the medical documentation was in the name of the other patient.

Immediately, a suspicion of mistaken identity arose, and the police were called and the Health Ministry alerted. The police are investigating suspicion of negligence at work, the STA learnt.

The Medical Chamber responded to the incident by saying that all existing mechanism aimed at preventing such events should be reviewed and upgraded. The chamber's president Bojana Beović said this case was a warning that the issue of understaffing in health had reached a critical point.


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