Hospital Kuala Lumpur (HKL) can take pride in their Medical Social Work Department as it has achieved a 90% success rate in counselling and persuading the families of abandoned and forgotten patients to accept them back into their homes.

According to Norzila Hasan, a senior official in the department, abandoned patients were usually elderly or mentally ill or both. Some were also homeless. As such, her department would try to locate the families to convince them to accept the patients back home.

Ten elderly people would be abandoned at the hospital each year, she said and the number is higher for the mentally ill - with an average of five being abandoned every month. Ten homeless people would be treated every month as well.

"Sometimes, these people possess no form of identification at all. So our officers will take their thumb prints and ask the National Registration Department to locate their family members," she added.

Sending abandoned patients home

Social workers of HKL will pay the families a visit once they are located; to aid with any problems the family is facing that causes them to abandon their elderly or mentally ill family members. According to Norliza, work demands, financial issues and lack of care knowledge are few of the main reasons why the patients are abandoned in a hospital.

A care plan is then developed with the expertise of nurses, pharmacists, dieticians and medical specialists and discussed with the family members.

"Usually, family members are willing to take back the patients when they have understood our care plant," Norliza said.

However, not all cases are as simple as that, as some patients have a rough history with their family members, she added. Sometimes factors such as domestic violence, drug, gambling problems or alcohol addiction and this is one of the main challenges in persuading family members to take them back.

HKL's main objective is to prevent these patients from being sent to welfare homes and raise awareness for the need for family conferences.

Support and care available for families

"We want them to realise that there are many support systems available at present to help them care for their family members," Norzila said.

However, it does not mean that conditions were harsh in welfare homes, such as the case of two elderly folks being abused in "All mighty old folks home" in Malacca.

"It's just that there tends to be less love and care in such institutions and its always better for their families to take care of them. There's no place like home," she added.

In August, Deputy Health Minister Hilmi Yahaya drew attention to geriatric care when he spoke of the increasing instances of patients, especially the elderly, being abandoned in government hospitals. He said that it was common for a government hospital in the country to be caring for at least two abandoned patients every month.

As such, in line with the upcoming budget review and an ageing population by 2020, the increase of abandoned patients and lack of trained personnel and education regarding geriatric care is likely to cause budget problems for the healthcare sector.

Therefore, the baby steps that HKL is taking should be lauded.  MIMS

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