Uncertainty as Emirati patients fear paying thousands for long-term care

Emirati patients and their families say they need rehabilitation in long-term care that government hospitals were unable to provide.
Ahmed Al Hamoudi from Fujairah is a long term patient of Amana Healthcare Medical and Rehabilitation Hospital. Christopher Pike / The National
Ahmed Al Hamoudi from Fujairah is a long term patient of Amana Healthcare Medical and Rehabilitation Hospital. Christopher Pike / The National

The families of hundreds of Emirati patients in long-term private care face bills of up to Dh60,000 a month after a change to their health insurance.

Most cannot afford to pay, and fear they will be forced to bring their loved ones home – where, without expert care and treatment, patients’ conditions will deteriorate and many may die.

Read the full story here: Shock at insurance coverage cuts for ‘most vulnerable’ Emirati patients

How the changes in insurance coverage in Abu Dhabi will affect you

Here are some of the people who will be affected by the change in policy:

Ahmed Al Hamoudi, 60

After suffering a heart attack last year, Mr Al Hamoudi was sent to a public hospital, where he was on a ventilator for more than five months before the hospital transferred him to Amana Healthcare in Al Ain.

“At the hospital I was in an ICU bed with tubes in my nose and throat for six months,” he said. “When I moved to Amana I took my first steps, I started eating and now I can breathe without a ventilator.”

Mr Al Hamoudi, who supports three families with his pension of Dh20,000 a month, has hardly slept since he found out about the insurance changes. He still needs to be weaned off the ventilator, and he requires therapy before he can resume a normal life.

But if he stays at Amana, he will have to pay Dh60,000 a month.

“I saw death and I survived. I was so close to going home,” he said.

Hamad Saif, 7

Sheikha Al Obeidli was told by a government hospital on Wednesday that they had no beds to accommodate her son. Hamad has Patau syndrome, a chromosomal abnormality that causes multiple organ defects.

He was one of the first patients admitted to ProVita International Medical Centres when they opened in 2011, on the advice of his doctors at a public hospital, his mother said. There, he was able for the first time to smile, move his arms and lift his head.

“They never treated him like a terminally ill patient,” she said. “He paints, they take him out and they have always given me hope. This is not available at any government hospital.”

She expressed shock at the news about the insurance changes, and would take Hamad to a public hospital if the option were available.

“It’s not just me. I’m talking about thousands of Emirati families who can’t afford to pay.

“But if it’s the law, then we will take our children out of the rehabilitation centre, but do we take them home to die?”

“Government hospitals said they had no beds and we can’t afford to pay, so what’s the alternative?”

Roudha Al Khoori, 4

On Thursday, Umm Roudha transported her daughter Roudha by ambulance from ProVita, where she had been receiving care for more than two years.

The Health Authority Abu Dhabi had told her mother that, to be exempt from the fee, she needed to file a medical report and be provided a bed at a government hospital, Ms Al Blooki said.

Her daughter has Krabbe disease, an inherited disorder that destroys the nerve cells in the brain and throughout the nervous system. She is on a ventilator and has a feeding tube inserted into her stomach.

Umm Roudha said she was later told by hospital administrators they had no beds for long-term patients.

“It was a risk, but what could I do? I’m trying everything ” she said.

“They announced the news a day before the Eid holiday. No one could celebrate Eid. We were all in shock”.

Families at ProVita were intears after the announcement, she said: “We are lost. No one knows what to do.”

Abdulla Ali Mohammed, 70

Umarried and with no children or pension, Abdulla is in a coma and on life support at Amana.

He was referred there in March last year from Saqr Hospital in Ras Al Khaimah after he suffered a stroke.

“He doesn’t have anyone other than me and his younger brothers,” his brother Ahmed said.

Ahmed approached two government hospitals and was told they had no beds available. The brothers estimate they will have to pay as much as Dh60,000 per month to keep Abdulla at the rehabilitation hospital, which they cannot afford.

“I can’t pay to keep him here, so shall I just take him home to die?” Ahmed said. “There is no other option.”

Amna Al Shehi, 3

Amna suffers from an inherited disease that causes muscle weakness. Without physiotherapy and occupational therapy, her body will lose its normal shape and her skull will slowly collapse and merge into her chest.

Nevertheless, Amna is exceptionally bright and hospital staff are teaching her three languages.

“Her IQ is above average and she wants to learn, so we have supported that by bringing in teachers to help her,” said Dr Masab Moumneh, a specialist at Amana.

Without proper care, Amna will live only another few years. With therapy, she would live at least into her early twenties: another patient with the same condition is 27.

Amna needs to have her body position changed every two hours.

“Where else will she get this care?” her father Saeed said.

Abdulla Abdulrahman, 2

Abdulla has a rare genetic condition. He was transferred to Amana from a US hospital while on a ventilator and suffering from a skin disease.

The ventilator was removed and the skin disease has been cured, but Abdulla still requires constant care. He is in rehabilitation but is bedridden.

“He can see but can’t hear. We are doing rehabilitation by visual therapy, said Dr Masab Moumneh, a specialist at Amana.

Abdulla has a tube in his trachea and without proper care for his chest, he could suffer recurrent and potentially life-threatening infections.

When his father Ahmed found out that he would have to pay 20 per cent of the cost of Abdulla’s rehabilitation, he and dozens of others went to the Health Authority Abu Dhabi for clarification.

“They told me to go to the General Authority for Health Services, who told me to discharge my son if I can’t afford to pay,” said Mr Abdulrahman. “I told them that it was impossible to take him home.”

Zayed Ali, 6

Zayed has several congenital diseases. He is on a ventilator and his renal and respiratory development is delayed.

He was admitted to Amana from a government hospital four years ago in a semi-comatose state.

“The first time I saw him open his eyes was here in Amana,” his father Mohamed said. “He was just a body, but now he can move his limbs and react to noises.”

At the long-term care centre, a doctor or nurse is available 24 hours a day and staff provide care and rehabilitation, while “in hospitals they just give medicines”.

Doctors worry that if Zayed is transferred to a government hospital, his kidneys will completely shut down.

“Zayed needs constant monitoring. Without care, he will definitely get renal failure and will need dialysis, which we have done our best to avoid,” said Dr Masab Moumneh, a specialist at Amana.

Mr Ali said: “I’ve seen what happened to my son in a government hospital and I don’t want that to happen again.”

Ali Al Zubaidi, 16

A government hospital in Al Ain sent Ali to Amana after he suffered brain damage two years ago at another public hospital, said his father, Omar Al Zubaidi, 56.

“He was having surgery to remove fluids that have built up in the brain and the doctor didn’t have the equipment used to prevent the vessels from bursting,” said Mr Al Zubaidi.

This caused damage to 90 per cent of his son’s brain cells.

“Ali is now completely dependent on machines and needs constant care. The hospital in Al Ain said they didn’t have enough nurses to take care of him and sent us to Amana,” his father said.

His son has been receiving care at the rehabilitation hospital for two years now.

“The new [policy] will mean that I have to pay Dh2,500 per day. My entire salary doesn’t exceed Dh30,000 per month. There is no way I can afford this,” said Mr Al Zubaidi.

He said he asked for an exemption from the Health Authority Abu Dhabi after the news was announced.

“They couldn’t give me an answer and sent me to Daman, who said to go to Haad. I understand if the law applies to people who choose to go to private, but I didn’t have a choice.

“All over the world, long-term patients are exempted, especially if the Government can’t accommodate them,” he said.

“I can’t pay and I have nowhere to take my son.”

Saeed Abdulla, 63

Mr Abdulla has been at Cambridge Medical and Rehabilitation Centre for more than two years. His daughter, who asked not to be named, said if he remains there, she will have to pay Dh40,000 a month.

“My father is completely dependent on machines after his stroke,” she said.

“I can’t take him home and if government hospitals can’t offer us the space or services that he needs, then they can send us abroad for treatment.”

Hamdan Al Derei, 6

“I can’t pay this amount, but I am not taking my son out of here unless I’m sure that there is no exemption,” said Khaled Al Derei, whose son Hamdan is receiving care at Cambridge Rehabilitation and Medical Centre.

“If I am forced to go to a government hospital, then I will not accept a lower level of care than what my son is receiving here.”

Hamdan, who has brain damage and epileptic seizures, was referred to Cambridge from Al Rahba Hospital in Abu Dhabi two years ago, his father said.

“Will a government hospital be able to give him the care that he needs?” he said.

salnuwais@thenational.ae

Published: July 14, 2016 04:00 AM

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