Friday, August 01, 2008

SICKO: the South Carolina version

On Tuesday night, the air conditioning at the hospital in Columbia where my father is currently went out for 12 hours. The temperature was over 96 degrees (36 degrees for you non Farenheit speakers)and it rose to almost 90 inside the hospital (34). I brought a fan from home and we stripped him down and kept cold wet face cloths on him and put him under the fan. The nurses told me that there used to be fans in the hospital but they were nowhere to be found nowadays.

While I was surprised that there was no back up system for the a/c dying in the middle of the brutally hot July-August months, I wasn't that perturbed until I read the news media spin where the spokesperson from the hospital said it was uncomfortable but nothing to worry about and praised the staff for bringing fans to the patients. I was in that hospital with frantic families from all over the city bringing fans in. The CVS next to the hospital was selling out. In the hospitals that I routinely visit in Africa and Asia, there are usually no air conditioning for anyone. There aren't even fans usually. But there are open windows to catch breezes. In the hermetically sealed highrises that are the modern US hospital, there's no opportunity to open the windows and cool yourself down. It was a good 20 degrees warmer in the hospital than it was when I went outside. Some patients had families take them out into the cool evening air. Since my dad was on an IV and oxygen, we weren't able to do that. To my sister's undying embarrassment (you are such a radical! she says), I decided to write a letter to the editor in the local newspaper in response to this article.

Regarding Dr. Caughman Taylor's statement about the air conditioning breakdown at Palmetto Health Richland that "It was not a safety issue; it was an inconvenience", I beg to differ. My 80 year old father was hospitalized when the air conditioning went out on Tuesday night. For the elderly, extreme heat is a serious life threatening condition. They are often the first to die when there is no air conditioning as we saw in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina and in heat waves in the mid West. It was family members that brought in fans and window units for their loved ones, not the staff. Staff complained that they were unable to access or find fans that used to be plentiful and spoke about equipment malfunctioning in the emergency room due to the excessive heat. While they were also suffering from the extreme heat in the hospital, they did the best that they could to provide care. CEO Singerling said that "practice makes perfect" so I hope the Palmetto Health Richland has found those fans and are prepared to have emergency plans for seniors and others with respiratory problems in case of another unexpected air conditioning malfunction during the hottest months of the year.


  1. Anonymous10:16 AM

    ... who do you work for again???!!! I can tell that you are an expert health care advocate!! Hugs, ELENA

  2. Anonymous2:52 PM

    What an outrage! Hang in there. I know you're worried about your dad, but you and your sister take care of yourselves, too. Take care,