Editorial | Punish those who shirk duty
The current quarrel between the Trelawny Municipal Corporation and the Falmouth Hospital over who is responsible for social patients languishing at that hospital reveals one of the harsh realities of poverty.
Make no mistake, by whatever name they are called, these are indigent persons who do not have the wherewithal to take care of themselves. The question of how to deal with these indigent patients who remain in hospitals long after they have been discharged is one that has been baffling Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton since he took office in 2016. Indeed, he has publicly expressed his frustration on a number of occasions.
Falmouth Hospital has revealed that it is costing them $130,000 each day to care for 10 patients. The main worry for the hospital has to be the fact that patients in need of care have been denied bed spaces. It cannot be the responsibility of a medical facility to take care of the financial needs of indigent patients.
We can understand that the municipality wants to save money, but that cannot be done at the expense of its most vulnerable citizens. We do not feel that the municipality ought to be allowed to shirk its duty.
Several truths are apparent as the authorities continue to wrestle with this problem. There is no magical solution because we are, in fact, dealing with the very poor. Another indisputable fact is that the answer may require some kind of private-public partnership.
We suggest that an immediate audit of indigent patients and their characteristic is required. These issues have to be thoroughly understood before appropriate strategies can be applied to correct them.
Here again is an example of the kind of pressure being created within the beleaguered health-care system. Low-income and uninsured persons cannot be guaranteed urgent medical attention in a no-user-fee scenario and one in which many of the basic resources are not available in government facilities.
It is certainly a disturbing trend for persons to shift additional financial responsibility on to an overburdened system that has obvious gaps.
Maybe it is time for the legislature to consider the enactment of filial responsibility laws that will force children to reimburse the State for money expended on the care of their family member.
There is precedent in the US filial responsibility statutes that derive from England's Elizabethan Poor Relief Act of 1601, which mandates the "father and grandfather and the mother and grandmother, and the children of every poor, blind, lame, and impotent person" to support that individual as best they could.
This English system for dealing with the poor and indigent was replicated in the American colonies. It is instructive that before these statues were imposed, it was considered a moral duty to look after one's parents.
However, in the modern age, family relationships have changed so dramatically that governments found that they had to put legislation in place to protect the poor. It seems that our society has arrived at this place where it requires legislation to ensure that family members take care of their loved ones who are not able to sustain themselves.