Nigerian hospital where poor patients are treated even when they can’t afford it

Crest in Egan, Igando, Lagos, is a private, multi-specialist hospital that focuses on providing sound medical attention with state of the art diagnostic equipment, modernised theater and other facilities to improve medical health. It renders quality healthcare in a relatively cheap manner to everyone. But the hospital is equally famed for its love for the downtrodden. ISIOMA MADIKE, who was there a number of times, returned with a story that could melt the hardest of hearts

 

 

Crest is like every other hospital but different. In the small rural town of Egan, Igando, Lagos, goats graze outside the entrance of this modest storey building which epitomises its simplicity. Inside, most patients without any known relatives recline on their beds wearing ragged clothes. The hospital started when the environment was bushy and very difficult to access.

It wasn’t fanciful at the time and wasn’t meant to be anyway. “For us, it didn’t matter what it looked like, as long as it was functional. It was a kind of divine assignment,” said the medical director, Dr. Waheed Abayomi. It was founded in 2003 on that philosophy.

What kept the hospital running and growing, Saturday Telegraph learnt, is its cheap, simple approach at reaching everyone who needs healthcare. In an era when most hospitals, including government-owned ones, are refusing to treat patients who cannot afford to deposit an initial payment and detain others for their inability to settle their bills, Crest has had an astonishing number of patients, who have literarily become part of its growing family. Stories abound of such hospitals that often illegally detain patients long after they should be discharged, using, in some instances armed guards, locked doors and even chains to hold those who have not settled their accounts. Even death, sometimes, does not guarantee release.

There are other hospital whose morgues are also holding hundreds of bodies until families can pay their loved ones’ bills. But not with Crest Hospital! Little wonder a first time visitor finds it easy navigating their way to the hospital in its dusty but friendly neighbourhood. Everyone knows where it is located. For the Okada and Keke Marwa riders, the hospital has somewhat become synonymous with Igando and its environs. It is also famous for its love for saving lives, especially those of the hapless and poor citizens, as testimonies of the hospital’s goodness continue to spread like wide fire.

On Monday when the Saturday Telegraph crew first visited the hospital, an elderly patient, Pa John Abeke, was sighted in a serene one-bed ward that appears to have become his home of late. He is trapped in his first-floor bed, unable to go home. Fate had dealt him a hard blow; he had lived in squalor in retirement.

His children too have not been quite caring; so are the relations and other persons he ever knew. “We can’t just let him die because he is poor and neglected. That is the reason we are trying the little we can to put a smile on his now jagged cheeks. This seems to be our calling and we love how we are helping the helpless to live.

We know things are hard in the country now but that won’t be enough excuse to throw our conscience to the dogs,” Fasilat, wife of the medical director, who doubles as the admin manager, said. Abeke was found in a ditch, around Lanre area of Igando, half dead.

Those that brought him out used a ladder. One of them happens to be a student at Auchi Polytechnic in Edo State. She had observed the man in the gutter for about three days before inviting other kind-hearted individuals who helped to rescue him. She got a police report from the Igando Divisional Police Station with the help of her police friend in Auchi who called both the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) and the Divisional Crime Officer (DCO) who initially refused to attend to her.

They, together, took Abeke to Igando General Hospital hoping to get him attended to since it was a government hospital. But he was rejected. They also tried other private hospitals around which equally rejected the dying old man as well. It was at that point that one of the police officers suggested Crest Hospital which is about two kilometres away from where the man was picked up. The police were sure the authorities at Crest won’t reject the man due to their famed antecedents of helping people in distress.

There were three versions on why the baba was rejected by the hospitals, especially the government- owned. The first version, according to findings, was because those that rescued him had no money for the initial deposit and could not easily get anyone to help out. “There were also the issues of bed space and the fact that the hospitals thought the man might not make it.

The case was almost a hopeless one. And immediately one of us suggest ed Crest Hospital, some of us who didn’t know much about the hospital accepted the suggestion reluctantly, since we didn’t know what next to do at that point,” said one of the police officers at the Igando Police station, who craved for anonymity. At Crest the man was not only attended to but stabilised. “Nothing like money or what you can call initial deposit was demanded from us.

The doctors were concerned first with his survival. Though they asked a few questions we believe would help them ascertain what had happened. We couldn’t give any meaningful explanation as nobody was sure of how he found himself in that state right in a deep gutter,” the student Good Samaritan, who identified herself only as Ifeoma, said.

To the management, life supersedes every other consideration. The baba, Abayomi told Saturday Telegraph, was brought to them unconscious but because he was still breathing that may have been what encouraged the Good Samaritans who rescue him.

Even when he was resuscitated getting his relatives became a herculean task. Abayomi said: “No clue as to how to locate anybody linked to him. We had to innovate by using Google to see if anyone could respond to enquiries or admit knowing him or anyone that knows him or how his relations could possibly be located. When the man became conscious he told us he had a property at Oshodi and one of our employees who happens to come from there was mandated to scour the area to see if there would be any clue.

“When that didn’t work we sent another person to the police station around the area but that again did not lead us anywhere. And because he loses his memory often, it becomes difficult to extract useful information from him.” However Saturday Telegraph investigations revealed that Abeke’s daughter who happens to be his first child brought him to Lagos in October to process his pension benefits.

The 83-year-old man from Sapele, Delta State, worked with the defunct Nigeria Airways, retired in 1983, and relocated back home. He lived in Mafoluku in Oshodi with his family of eight: six children, himself and his wife. Two of his children, the first daughter and first son along with his wife, went back to Sapele with him while the other four children decided to remain in Lagos to continue the struggle.

Incidentally, Abeke’s daughter acted alone as she brought the old man to Lagos without any of his siblings consent. Attempt to hear her side of the story was not successful as she could not be reached with the only known telephone number available to Saturday Telegraph.

But she had admitted bringing her father to process his retirement benefits when she visited the man at Crest Hospital. According to the management of Crest Hospital, her father, on their second day at the pension’s office, suddenly disappeared into the thin air and her efforts at tracing him were not successful. But his son,who identified himself simply as Rabor, said his father got missing since October 5, but was brought to Crest Hospital in December. He told Saturday Telegraph that his family is not in harmony.

He said: “We have some issues in our family. This may be the reason why everyone is on their own. But we will sort it our own way and I am not interested in talking about it here. “I can only tell you that my elder sister acted alone; she never consulted any of us before she brought our father to Lagos. She had been economical with the truth about his disappearance too. But we are happy our father is alive. We are only begging the hospital to release him to us while we settle his hospital bill on installment basis.” The clothes he wore the day he was rescued were so dirty and torn that the doctors and police suspected it could have been a failed kidnap, murder attempt or straight robbery.

They also suspected a case of one chance robbery. He had cuts all over his body which suggested that he might have been rough handled by bad boys. It was difficult to get details because the man was rescued unconscious. The student Good Samaritan was in Lagos to collect money from her parents when she saw the man in a deep gutter. He was given oxygen even as the doctors battled to stabilise him.

Abeke has since been satisfied fit to be discharged but nobody is taking up that responsibility. His younger brother, a medical doctor, had requested for the bill but when it was sent to him, the man simply disappeared without further correspondence. When Rabor came to the hospital he claimed not to have any money to settle the bill. He said the enlarged family had an extensive meeting but failed to discuss monetary issue.

They are only interested in bringing the man home, he added. However, the hospital, not bothering much about the bills, had requested that at least three members of Abeke’s family present themselves before he could be discharged and handed over to them.

“We are trying to be careful because of litigations in the future,” Abayomi said. But, if Abeke’s case is pathetic, that of Basirat’s is simply heartbreaking. She is 31 years of age. She was nine months pregnant when she was rushed to Crest Hospital.

The mother had tried to have her attended to in other hospitals including tradomedicals without success as she had no money to pay for such a little thing as a hospital card. “They rejected us because we had no money and her condition was so critical. She was dying and nobody could pity us.

She had a distressed baby and was put through a caesarian immediately at Crest to save her and her child,” the distraught mother said. After the successful delivery, Basirat stayed in the hospital for about a week without anybody coming to ask after her.

Her poor mother got her to Crest with a baby of about three years old. When the doctor asked the mother about her husband so he could pay the bill, she simple said, “there was nobody like a husband and that was her third pregnancy.” She added: “This wasn’t her first time; she had been pregnant twice before now, this is her third. Luckily we could trace one of her children to the relatives of the man that was responsible and they collected the boy from us. But the remaining two, we cannot say who was responsible.”

When the hospital asked the mother how she intended to settle the bill, she promise she was going out on the streets to beg from anyone who might be kind enough to listen to her story. But a few minutes after the promised was made, she came back to tell the doctors she was so ashamed and could not do it.

That was how Basirat, her baby, and her mother became the “property” of the hospital. However, this reporter, on enquiry discovered that the lady is not mentally stable. This may be why she suddenly became violent and was fighting other patients and destroying things.

“So I went to her and persuaded her to see a psychologist and she agreed. That was how I took her to Aro Psychiatrist Hospital in Abeokuta for a better management. I paid for the treatment with the little money with me but then they told me she needed to be admitted for some time and requested we deposit the sum of N98, 000 which I didn’t have with me.

“Her mother was with us and could not do not anything either. So, we returned to Lagos to think of what to do with her case. Before then we had transfused her two times and her bill was piling up. Our efforts to raise money from kindhearted Nigerians could not yield any positive result.

“When she stabilised a bit, her mother requested she takes her home and we pleaded with her to bring her back if it’s getting out of hand because we had come to love her and treated her like one of our own. She is okay now but our little investigation revealed that her mental issue comes after she would have taken in. Because she is beautiful, men usually take advantage of her, impregnate and leave her to her fate. This is because nobody would want to sleep with her under such terrible condition,” said Fasilat. However, Abeke and Basirat were not the only indigent cases encountered in Crest hospital.

There was yet another who gave her name as Dorcas but what the hospital recorded was Fatima. She is from the northern part of Edo State. A graduate of one of the universities in the South- South region of the country who was rushed to the hospital naked.

“Her church members brought her here but the pastor didn’t have any money to deposit at the time. Her case was so bad that the second day they brought her, she was destroying everything in the hospital. “She was also mentally unstable and if we had to take her to Abeokuta, we would be made to deposit up to N250, 000 before she could be attended to. So, we just asked the pastor to call her father because the pastor said that the lady was brought to them by her relatives. But when she got better she told us that those people were not her relations but friends to her mother when she was alive. She said they brought her to Lagos to marry a man suspected to be equally mentally unstable.”

Fatima told Saturday Telegraph that she ran away when she could no longer cope with the man to the church. She spent about three weeks or thereabouts with Crest Hospital before she was deemed fit to be discharged. Unfortunately her father who had promised to send N10,000 as part of what was needed to settle her medical bill, shockingly reneged, and told the hospital to do what they wanted with her. “I don’t have any dime, if she wants to die, let her go ahead because I’m tired of her,” said the man, who claimed to be her father.

This reporter made several efforts to speak with him via the telephone number obtained from the hospital but the call rang out on four occasions without the man picking or returning any. Abayomi said that Fatima’s father told them he was not ready to kill himself for anybody and that they should release her to the streets to die if they so wish.

“At that point we realised the lady had nobody, so, we started managing her. Some of our staff brought clothes, while others helped to provide her toiletries and we accommodated and fed her. It was when we wanted to travel to Osun that we called the pastor to come and take her to stay with them while we were away. But before we came back the pastor said she had travelled to Kano. “She calls us from Kano like twice in a week.

She requested to settle with us since we could accept her the way she is and treat her like our child. She said she can teach or work since she is a graduate and we felt that if she could do that we could further help her but we needed somebody to guarantee us that nothing will happen to us for trying to give her the little help we could. I think her father behaved that way because of poverty. We are also trying to be careful not to run into trouble trying to help someone,” Fasilat said.

There was also a case of one Tosin who was taken to the hospital and abandoned after treatment. Those that took him to the hospital disappeared in the pretext of trying to get money to settle his medical bill. After the hospital waited in vain, he was allowed to go without paying anything. Another was rushed to Crest with deep market cuts all over his body.

Good Samaritans rescued and took him to the hospital but disappeared one after the other when he got better. “His was also pathetic as he jumped the hospital fence to escape paying his bill. That was ridiculous because we would have allowed him to go if actually he didn’t have anything.

“It was really childish and stupid to have done that. We had been considerate with many of his kind in the past and his wouldn’t have been an exception. But we learnt from that too as we continue to learn on a daily basis. When you see those who are not willing to help, don’t blame them, they must have encountered some nasty experiences before.” Asked how he manages to run such a hospital like a charity, Abayomi confessed that it had not been easy, but because of their belief that it could be divine assignment, they have no choice but to continue to help humanity. He said: “It’s tough most times. There are times we feel like shutting down the hospital. But somehow God has been faithful.

This is why we are appealing to anyone who can come to our aid so that we can have enough to help those in distress. Things are hard in the country but we do not allow that to dissuade us from helping those in need. If we want to be strict, how many indigent Nigerians can afford hospital bills? Most of the cases we receive are referrals, bad cases if you like.

We hardly have fresh or minor cases that require little attention and resources to execute. “There was a time a woman who heard about this hospital visited when she was on vacation from London. When she visited us she was impressed with our level of sincerity and dedication as well as our willingness to help the needy. She promised linking us to some foreign donor agencies that may be willing to collaborate with us after investigating if our claims are genuine. Unfortunately we have not heard from her ever since.

“Things of that nature would have gone a long way to assist us in putting smiles on the faces of many poor Nigerians. We don’t blow our trumpet, those we have helped in distress advertise us, and we are grateful to them.” For those who live around Igando and the environs, Crest Hospital nobility is sometime that is already a virtue of a sort.

For instance, the DPO of Igando Divisional Police station had this to say about the hospital and the doctors. “It feels so good meeting Dr. Abayomi of Crest Hospital. He is a rare person. I wish Nigerians can live beyond religious sentiments and political divides the way he has thus far conducted himself.

“He has shown love to many and even the vulnerable, aged persons in our society as my policemen testify, greatly about his good will. This may not be the case with some Ustaz and pastors; it’s not the title but the content of one’s character. Again, God bless him immensely.” Another pastor simply said: “He is a great man. God will reward him and bless even his children’s children.” Incidentally, while health experts decry hospital imprisonment as a human rights violation, no one seems to be talking about those that have acted otherwise.

The United Nations, U.S. and other international health agencies, donors and charities have all remained silent while pumping billions of dollars into some countries to support their poor health systems or to fight outbreaks of diseases. “People know patients are being held prisoners, but they probably think they have bigger battles in public health to fight, so they just have to let this go,” said Sophie Harman, a global health expert at Queen Mary University of London.

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