March 3 2020
NHRCK Chairperson's Statement on Emergency Relief Measures for Closed Psychiatric Ward of Daenam Hospital in Cheongdo and Group Home for Persons with Disabilities
The National Human Rights Commission of Korea (Chairperson Young-ae Choi) thanks medical workers for their hard work to stop the spread of coronavirus and to citizens for their mature response to the pandemic. As chief of the national human rights institution, I would like to express my deep regret and concern about the serious damage caused by the current crisis to persons with disabilities and other vulnerable groups.
On February 26 2020, the NHRCK received a complaint from disability organizations and the Association of Persons with Mental Disabilities requesting emergency relief measures regarding COVID-19 cluster infections at Daenam Hospital and Milal Shelter. The complainants requested that patients quarantined at the two facilities should be 1) provided with adequate meals and sanitation and sufficient numbers of medical workers and 2) transferred to other medical institutions that provide appropriate treatment, rather than being kept in a quarantine cohort. They also requested the Commission to examine the reason why psychiatric hospitals and residential homes for persons with disabilities nationwide are particularly vulnerable to infectious disease outbreaks and put forward measures to resolve this issue.
In response, the NHRCK contacted relevant organizations for information and sent three investigators to the disaster management headquarters of Cheongdo-gun the next day for a preliminary investigation.
The on-site investigation found that patients were not provided with adequate meals at an early phase of infection due to suspension of meal delivery service. It was also confirmed that there were sanitations issues such as improper waste management. However, measures have been taken to address these issues, such as hiring of a new meal service provider and additional building management workers. Moreover, as of March 2, 60 of 95 confirmed patients were transferred to other medical institutions and the others will follow suit successively. The patients staying at these two facilities are being treated by 47 medical workers. All things considered, we decided not to provide emergency relief for the first two issues as they do not require urgent interventions.
Nevertheless, we found other issues that demand an urgent response in the process of preliminary investigation, such as prolonged in-patient care, improper health management, poor lighting and ventilation and insufficient workout equipment. The NHRCK will take this opportunity to strengthen the monitoring of congregate care facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic, with a view to protecting the right to health of vulnerable groups.
To this end, the NHRCK will do everything within its authority and mandate of a national human rights institution to conduct an on-site visit and survey of psychiatric hospitals and residential homes for persons with disabilities as soon as the pandemic subsides and actively consider the possibility of ex-officio investigation if necessary. Furthermore, we will actively cooperate with relevant ministries, organizations and groups if the situation requires it.
The Commission wishes for a quick recovery of COVID-19 patients and hopes that we all work together to successfully overcome the crisis.