Is the mission of the “pope’s hospital” in the Vatican already lost and the institution is now more aimed at profit rather than on healing children?
The Associated Press carried out an investigation on Bambino Gesu (Baby Jesus) Pediatric Hospital in Italy, where it is considered a cornerstone of the healthcare system.
Under its 2008 to 2015 leadership, the hospital expanded its services and tried to turn things around for the money-losing enterprise – sometimes at a dear cost for child patients, the AP reported.
Previous uproar among hospital doctors and nurses led to an undercover three-month investigation by the Vatican back in 2014. From testimonies and documents from current and previous staff members, the authorized probe discovered that the pediatric health center was already more focused on profit than on tending to child patients.
The report was never revealed to the public, with some of its recommendations not carried out.
In 2015, the Vatican conducted another inquiry: a three-day hospital visit that concluded there was nothing amiss in the hospital.
Now the AP investigation corroborated many of the 2014 complaints, such as overcrowding and low hygiene standards that contributed to fatal infections. A highly drug-resistant superbug, for instance, persisted for almost two years and killed eight children in its cancer ward.
As an austerity measure, disposable equipment, along with other materials, was found to be used improperly at times, with a one-off order of cheap needles breaking when they were injected into tiny, fragile veins.
The report continued that there was also pressure among doctors to maximize turnover in the operating rooms, such that patients were at times taken out of anesthesia too hastily. The AP cited the case of a 14-year-old appendectomy patient who was woken up too soon “against all ethics and morals of our hospital,” according to an internal hospital report.
Other issues include an “extreme number of medical interventions” done on kids who were almost dead, and extremely high rates of infection and death at the neonatal surgery ward.
Pediatric Hospital Denies Allegations
The pediatric hospital disputed the report findings and even threatened a legal move against AP.
Bambino Gesu argued that the report peddled false, unfounded information, meant to defame the institution. Instead, it turned the focus on the hospital's reputation as a center of excellence, along with visits from top surgeons and world celebrities.
It also pinpointed the 2015 investigation, where Sister Carol Keehan was sent by the Vatican to investigate. The employees’ concerns were disproven by the American’s team, the hospital noted.
Hospital staff members who were interviewed by AP requested anonymity out of fear of losing their jobs. In its newsletter last July 2016, however, Bambino Gesu’s main union confirmed that problems remained.
“Ten years ago, the ERs were jammed and they still are," the newsletter exposed. "Ten years ago, patients waited on stretchers and they still do. Ten years ago you entered with one illness and left with two hospital infections, and still do."
In a Christmas speech last year, Pope Francis dubbed it the “greatest cancer” for a hospital to fall prey to corruption.
“Look at the children, and let each one of us think: ‘Can I make corrupt business off these children? No!’” the pope said in Italian.