When my son, Alfredo Jr., suffered a stroke last March 31, my immediate impulse was to take him to the St. Luke’s Medical Center in Quezon City which, I thought, has the most modern medical facilities and the finest doctors in town.
It was a decision I rue today. My resentment rose when I discovered the ugly side of the hospital during my bitter and stressful encounter with its billing department over the release of the body of my son, who died at its Intensive Care Unit last April 26.
The hospital had been holding my son’s body for almost three days in stark violation of the law, Republic Act No. 9439, which states that no hospital or medical clinic can detain a patient on grounds of non-payment of hospital bills and medical expenses.
Given its hostile behavior, I believed that the hospital couldn’t care less to let my son’s body rot in its freezer unless I succumbed to its oppressive terms relative to the settlement of a net bill amounting to P1.9 million.
The hospital, I am sad to say, utterly lacked the sense of noblesse oblige, a concept that requires privileged persons and institutions to exercise social responsibility to the poor, especially in this instance, the hospital’s indigent customers.
The hospital holds two aces up its sleeve, the power to arbitrarily hold the body of a deceased patient and the power to hold the release of his death certificate in a calculated move to disrupt the interment schedule to pressure the concerned family to accept its stiff terms in the payment of bills.
It can even refuse to release a clinical abstract, as in my case, preventing me to use it in seeking financial assistance from the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office in the payment of a huge hospital bill.
Worse, I was surprised to realize that the hospital had the gall to attempt to grab my house and lot in Fairview, Quezon City, with a fair market value of P12 million by way of the so-called Dacion en Pago in a mortgage agreement in full payment of my indebtedness of less than P2 million.
My son was confined for almost 26 days at the Neuro-Critical Care Unit of the hospital, costing us (his family) about P100,000 daily, including P40, 000 per day for accommodation and the rest for medicines and laboratory fees. When our bill reached the P1 million level, my son was placed under the so-called “red tag” status, meaning we had to buy his medicines and pay for the laboratory fees ourselves instead of depending on the hospital to supply the medicines and laboratory work and just bill us for these later.
Under Section 2 of RA 9439, a patient who is incapable of paying his bills is required to execute a promissory note covering the unpaid obligation to be supported by a mortgage or by a guarantee of a co-maker who will be jointly and severally liable with the patient for the unpaid bill.
In the case of a deceased patient, the law says “the corresponding death certificate and other documents required for interment and other purposes must be released to any of his surviving relatives requesting for the same.”
To comply with the law, I executed a promissory note signed by two co-makers and issued 44 postdated checks of P40,000 each month until the indebtedness of P1.9 million is fully paid. The sum of P400, 000 was also paid online by a daughter of mine in the United States.
Despite this, the billing clerk, Nick Gonzales, refused to release the body of my son, saying he still had to seek the approval of a higher authority.
That was a Sunday, the second day after my son’s death. After waiting for several hours for the approval of our proposal, Gonzales called to say he was ready to release my son’s body. My grandson, Alfred III, son of the deceased, went back to the billing office.
But to our utter disgust, Gonzales said he could not release the body allegedly on order of the hospital’s legal counsel, a certain James Magboo, unless I signed an additional document requiring me to pay interest of 24 percent per year for any remaining balance of the huge bill. There were other stipulations in the document which called for automatic legal action by the hospital for our failure to comply with its terms.
Obviously, the hospital wanted to make money on my huge indebtedness by slapping a 24 percent interest for any balance, as if it was a bank loan.
I vehemently refused to sign the document, telling Gonzales that the terms and conditions were highly onerous, confiscatory and patently illegal and beyond the scope of RA 9439. My grandson and I then walked away in a huff.
The next day, my grandson and I went back to St. Luke’s hospital, with me ready to sign the imposed document against my will and judgment. It was upon my signing of the document, a bitter pill to swallow, that my son’s body was finally released.
It was the first time after several years that my son’s siblings who had arrived earlier, three from the US, one from Hongkong and the other from Macau, saw their brother, smiling in his casket.
To be continued.
My email address is email@example.com.