Acutely ill Emirati patients will not be discharged over unpaid fees: rehabilitation centres

As of Monday, families of hundreds of patients are required to pay 20 per cent of the cost of treatment, which can mean up to Dh50,000 a month .

Aysha Owda with daughter Ghadeer, a patient at ProVita Medical Centre in Khalifa City A.  Antonie Robertson / The National
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ABU DHABI // Private rehabilitation centres in the emirate have resisted discharging or billing hundreds of acutely ill Emirati patients who cannot afford to pay a percentage of their treatment costs as new insurance rules demand.

As of Monday, families of hundreds of patients are required to pay 20 per cent of the cost of treatment, which can mean up to Dh50,000 a month.

The announcement of the new copay rule was made on July 1, with rehabilitation centres instructed by Daman Insurance to collect payments.

However, many of the 300 families affected said they could not afford to pay. Some have approached government hospitals to transfer their family member, only to be told there was no bed available.

In spite of instructions to collect fees, rehabilitation centre chiefs have assured patients and families they remained committed to their care and that no one would be discharged without consent.

“We will make no changes in the quality of care we provide,” said Dr Howard Podolsky, chief executive of Cambridge Medical and Rehabilitation Centre.

“We are 1,000 per cent committed to our patients. We want to continue to have a dialogue with the Health Authority Abu Dhabi (Haad) and Daman and find ways to support families and patients so they continue to receive the care they need.”

However, in what Dr Podolsky described as a “heartbreaking” situation, two families discharged their family members from the centre out of concern over the cost of care, while another 10 are waiting for beds at government hospitals.

Three private medical and rehabilitation centres in the emirate – Amana, ProVita and Cambridge – care for hundreds of Emirati patients, mostly children.

Cambridge and ProVita each have facilities in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain. Cambridge has about 100 patients and ProVita has a total of 110 patients, of whom half are children.

“We absolutely believe in the Government’s mandate to rein in healthcare costs,” said Dr Podolsky. “Health care is extremely expensive and the Government has been extraordinarily generous in caring for citizens.”

Government hospitals do not have the beds or resources to provide the rehabilitation therapies long-term patients need, such as self-feeding and self-bathing units or hydrotherapy.

Some families have complained of relatives languishing in ICU beds for years.

“Seha [the Abu Dhabi Health Services Company] does a wonderful job at acute care but when patients need long-term care or rehabilitation they have not been able to completely fill that need,” said Dr Podolsky. “That’s where the private sector came in five years ago.”

Patients have been encouraged by Haad to request an exemption to the new rule.

“We have not demanded payment from any patient. We merely explained that we have to provide an invoice and showed them the amount,” said Dr Podolsky.

“The turmoil our patients are experiencing is very upsetting.”

Michael Davis, chief executive of ProVita, said his staff have spent the last three weeks reassuring families.

“We are not evicting anyone. We cannot and will not send someone out because they don’t have the ability to pay. ”

While Mr Davis was hopeful about finding a solution, he said some of the extra services the centres provided, such as teachers and staff to take patients on trips and visits to their families, might be re-evaluated or removed.