GIFU -- A hospital here began transferring patients to air-conditioned rooms after four others in rooms with broken air conditioners died from apparent heatstroke on Aug. 26 and 27, investigative sources have told the Mainichi Shimbun.
Gifu Prefectural Police suspect that Y&M Fujikake Daiichi Hospital, in the city of Gifu in central Japan, realized the seriousness of the situation after seeing four patients die within about 15 hours.
A total of 5 patients -- three men and two women, aged 83 to 85 -- are suspected to have died of heatstroke. However, the hospital is said to have stated in their death certificates that the patients died of such causes as multiple organ failure, heart failure and other illnesses, while not mentioning any relationship between their deaths and heatstroke.
Police are conducting autopsies on the bodies of the five patients to determine the causes of their deaths, considering the possibility of professional negligence resulting in death.
According to the municipal government, the hospital and other sources, the air conditioners on the third and fourth floors broke down on Aug. 20. The third floor consisted of eight rooms for one to four people each and the fourth floor had six rooms with capacities of one to five people. Over 20 patients are believed to have been on the two floors at the time. The hospital installed a total of nine electric fans, one for each room with patients. However, one patient died on the third floor and three others died on the fourth floor between 8:40 p.m. on Aug. 26 and 11:37 a.m. on Aug. 27.
People close to the investigation say 11 other patients were moved from the third and fourth floors to air-conditioned rooms after the death of the four patients. Among those transferred, an 84-year-old man admitted on Aug. 24 was moved to the second floor on Aug. 27, but he passed away at 6:38 p.m. on Aug. 28.
The fact that the hospital made all its patients stay on the third and fourth floors without working air conditioners for about a week suggests it was late in recognizing the danger of the situation.
According to the Gifu Municipal Government, which conducted spot inspections at the hospital on Aug. 28 and Aug. 29 based on the Medical Care Act, the hospital explained that it sought repairs for its air conditioners "whenever they broke down," indicating that it did not carry out periodic inspections.
The municipal government instructed the hospital to improve its medical environment, to periodically inspect its air-conditioning equipment, and to avoid admitting new patients until the air conditioners were fully fixed. Repair work is estimated to take until Sept. 10, because it will take time to procure parts for the air conditioners which are still broken. The hospital transferred the rest of the seven patients, who were still left on the third and fourth floors, to a separate building with air conditioners on Aug. 29. It could not transfer patients to the separate building previously, as the air conditioners there had also been malfunctioning after the incident.
Hospital director Yosei Fujikake told reporters on Aug. 28, "We used electric fans at first, then transferred those with severe conditions to rooms with working air conditioners. There were patients who disliked air conditioners, and we didn't move the four who passed away."
According to a 47-year-old man living in Gifu, who visited the hospital on Aug. 30, his 82-year-old father, who is hospitalized at Y&M Fujikake Daiichi due to a cerebral embolism, had been moved from a room on the fourth floor with a broken air conditioner to the second floor. The office worker stated, "It was very hot and caused me to break out in a sweat just by sitting there when I visited on Aug. 27. My father had lots of heat rashes on his arms, and seemed to be in agony."
(Japanese original by Ryo Numata, Gifu Bureau; and Tomokazu Komaki and Hitomi Takai, Nagoya News Center)