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200 expectant mothers to be pushed out of Tokyo hospital as COVID-19 care takes priority

The Tokyo Metropolitan Hiroo Hospital, whose maternity patients have been forced to switch hospitals for childbirth as the hospital focuses on accepting COVID-19 patients, is seen in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo, on Jan. 15, 2021. (Mainichi/Asako Takeuchi)

TOKYO -- The decision to turn a public hospital in the capital's Shibuya Ward into essentially a COVID-19 treatment center has caused stress and consternation for around 200 women who were scheduled to give birth there and are now forced to find other medical institutions for delivery.

    While the Tokyo Metropolitan Government has pledged to cover childbirth-related cost discrepancies that patients incur when switching from the Tokyo Metropolitan Hiroo Hospital to another institution, the details have yet to be elaborated on. Some expectant mothers are also seeking wide-ranging support from the metro government.

    On Jan. 9, a 25-year-old freelancer living in Tokyo's Setagaya Ward with a due date at the end of the month got a call from her doctor at Hiroo Hospital, who said, "You will no longer be able to give birth at our hospital. Please find another hospital as soon as possible." Her mind went blank at the abrupt notice, she told the Mainichi Shimbun. After all, she could go into labor at any time.

    With the Tokyo area under pressure to provide more hospital beds for COVID-19 patients, the metropolitan government decided that the Hiroo Hospital and another two managed by the Tokyo Metropolitan Health and Medical Treatment Corp. would become treatment hubs for COVID-19 patients. The three hospitals have already suspended some other treatment sections.

    The 25-year-old woman's attending doctor presented her with nine other hospitals, including private ones, but all of them cost between 200,000 and 300,000 yen (about $1,925 to $2,888) more for childbirth care. She did not receive information regarding compensation and other help available for changing hospitals.

    She was also introduced to another low-cost hospital run by the Tokyo government. But it was far from her home and, fearing she could end up giving birth in a taxi on the way there, decided she could not choose the institution.

    The coronavirus crisis has seen her work opportunities reduced, and her self-employed husband's income has also fallen drastically. The couple gave up on having the child at hospitals in Tokyo, which tend to be expensive, and found a hospital in the neighboring prefecture of Chiba where her family lives. Even so, their choice is 100,000 yen (about $963) more expensive than Hiroo Hospital.

    She is uneasy about entrusting the birth with doctors she has just met, and doing it at a hospital far from her husband. Although the metro government announced on Jan. 14 that it will help cover the cost discrepancies incurred, the expectant mother said, "I would have liked them to have told me sooner about the hospital changes and the support plans."

    A day care worker, 32, from Tokyo's Shinagawa Ward who is nine months pregnant and scheduled to transfer from Hiroo Hospital to a private institution is relieved at the announced support. But she added that she wanted to see help for patients receiving other kinds of care, saying, "Changing hospitals isn't just a burden on people giving birth. There are probably many people choosing metropolitan government-run hospitals for cost reasons; I want the government to really pay consideration to that."

    A 30-year-old working mother-to-be who is also from Shinagawa Ward and currently in the process of changing hospitals told the Mainichi Shimbun, "There's examinations, labor, hospitalization and other procedures. Maternity fees are complicated. I want them to look into offering support for total cost discrepancies."

    Pregnant women have been expressing their discontent on Twitter, and are being widely retweeted. On Jan. 14, Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike said the metro government intends to shoulder referral fees to new hospitals, discrepancies in maternity fees, and taxi rides to the hospital, among other items. She also announced that, if necessary, the Tokyo government will ask doctors who have been in charge of care to keep overseeing their patients.

    "We will continue to offer full support to try to eliminate concern for people during the significant moment in people's lives that is childbirth," Koike said. The metro government is set to release details on the aid being offered soon.

    (Japanese original by Hitomi Saikawa, City News Department)

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