76-year-old Joseph Patrick Walsh, from Aghafad, Carrickmacross, Co. Monaghan, died last Friday morning after suffering heavy blood loss from an ulcer. His family says the death could have been avoided if Monaghan General Hospital, which has been the subject of bitter political disputes in recent years, had better facilities.
Walsh died after three other hospitals said they had no empty bed to accommodate him.
Walsh’s sister, Phyllis Hughes of Merrick, Long Island, has been to the fore in demanding answers about the affair.
“This was a terrible death that should never have happened,” Hughes told the Echo yesterday. She was speaking by phone from Ireland in the wake of her brother’s funeral.
The grim affair began in late September, when Walsh fell and broke his hip. He was taken to the main hospital in the County Louth town of Drogheda where a hip replacement operation was carried out.
Hughes said that Walsh’s recuperation seemed to be going slowly but steadily — bleeding from the ulcer had necessitated him being drip-fed for eight days, but the drip was eventually removed.
The situation worsened when he was moved to Monaghan General Hospital on Thursday, despite the fact that the move closer to home was supposed to signal an improvement. The family suspects Walsh was not in a fit state to be moved from Drogheda. Though he initially appeared comfortable in Monaghan, his condition deteriorated quickly.
According to Hughes, her brother’s immediate relatives in Ireland were called on Thursday night with the news that he had taken a turn for the worse. She added that they were told to call back in half an hour, but that when they did so they were informed that the hospital had already “sent for the priest” and that they should get to his bedside as quickly as possible.
Walsh died at 7 a.m. on Friday. His sister said that he suffered “seven hours of extreme pain” before passing away.
The family’s outrage — and the similar anger expressed by some politicians — concerns Monaghan General Hospital’s inability to provide the appropriate treatment to save Walsh’s life. The hospital can only carry out minor surgical procedures and even these can only take place between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Hughes said she believed this was partly to do with the hospital’s limited insurance coverage.
Hughes noted that the staff at the hospital tried their best to save her brother, primarily by carrying out a large blood transfusion. But she also believes that he would still be alive today if the hospital had been able to performing a relatively simple surgical procedure aimed at stanching the blood loss from his ulcer.
Hughes immediately flew to Ireland after hearing the news of her brother’s passing. “I just couldn’t believe he was dead,” she told the Echo.
Hughes was four years her brother’s junior. She came to the U.S. in 1956. She is now retired, though she worked for 15 years in St. Francis Hospital on Long Island and for 18 years as a bus dispatcher in Merrick.
The death of her brother came as a bitter blow only one year after the unexpected death of another brother, Francey, who was attacked by a bull. Phyllis Hughes’ husband, Sean, died three years ago.
“I don’t want to be in the papers or on the news,” the 72-year-old said, referring to the media attention her brother’s case has received. “But I just want there to be a hospital near home. I am extremely upset. Why can’t they have a hospital that works around the clock?”
Ireland’s Minister for Health Mary Harney has expressed sympathy to the family and has said that the Health Service Executive (HSE) is investigating the case. Harney also said yesterday that Walsh could have been treated thirty miles away, in Cavan General Hospital. Harney added that one of the subjects of the investigation would be why no-one appeared to be aware of this option.
However, the controversy has provoked fury among opposition politicians. Sinn Fein TD Caoimghin O Caolain, who represents the Cavan-Monaghan constituency, has long argued that Monaghan General Hospital should be better resourced. O Caolain said that he was “incredulous” about Harney’s attitude.
“She is trying to place the blame on Monaghan General Hospital and its dedicated staff,” O Caolain argued. “She knows very well that the embargo on acute surgical emergencies in Monaghan has nothing to do with hospital policy. It is the policy and the diktat of this government through the Health Service Executive. That is what ties the hands of the staff at Monaghan.”
An independent TD who represents the same constituency, Paudge Connolly, claimed that 16 other deaths could be attributed to the downgrading of facilities at Monaghan General Hospital.
Phyllis Hughes told the Echo that Harney has agreed to meet with the family next week. The Long Island woman said she herself would have many questions to ask:
“I will be trying to get this hospital made into a proper hospital so this won’t happen again someday,” she said.