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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Nothing Changes in Horrible Hospitals

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This week, I read in the local media about disturbing events at a maternity hospital. I was reminded of a similar horrible experience described by one of the journalists at The St. Petersburg Times back in 1998.

This reporter gave a chilling account of giving birth at a dirty clinic and of her encounters with its rude staff. She wrote about her experience in such a lively way that the article elicited a strong response from readers. Some were supportive, but others were furious at her for exposing the dire state of the Russian healthcare system.

I would have thought things would have improved in the years since, especially as the population has declined. But a recent court case makes me wonder how much has changed.

An article published this week on the web site tells of a woman whose two-week-old child died in May 2001 in City Hospital No. 13. The court has ordered the hospital to pay 200,000 rubles, or $7,143, to the mother, Irina Vladimirova, as compensation for the loss of her child, thus confirming that the hospital staff was to blame for the child's death. "Nobody is insured against a child dying," a maternity nurse is quoted as saying. It would be outrageous if this child's death did not result in improved treatment for other mothers and newborns.

It is unbelievable how callously certain medical professionals can behave toward women at one of the most significant moments in their life, when they are giving birth to a child. When Vladimirova started experiencing her first contractions, the doctors not only ignored her pleas for help, but even swore at her, saying she would wake up the other patients.

"A nurse approached me, saying, 'Why are you screaming? You'll scare the baby. Everybody has abdominal pain from time to time. The doctor told you it's too early to give birth, so go away and lie down!' But I was going out of my mind from the pain," Vladimirova said.

"In the breaks between contractions, I crawled along the floor and tried to crawl down the corridor for help. Maternity nurses kept coming up to me and lifting me off the floor by my leg as if I were a dog and repeating, 'You were told it's too early to give birth! Lie down and don't crawl around. See, there is a trail of blood behind you! Who is going to clean it up?" Vladimirova recalled.

If this story had not been confirmed at a court hearing, I would have found it hard to believe. It sounds more like an account from a prison camp than the tale of an expectant mother.

In this instance, the behavior of the staff seems incomprehensible. It is particularly upsetting because Hospital No. 13 is reputed to be one of the best cardiology centers in St. Petersburg and specializes in helping women with heart conditions. If this is hospital is one of the best, what are the others like?

Many of my foreign friends go to Finland to give birth to be sure everything goes smoothly. But what about those who don't have the money? Most pregnant women in St. Petersburg wind up in hospitals where they have no guarantees of decent care or of even humane treatment, if Vladimirova's story is part of a larger pattern.

Some might say this kind of story should not be published because such cases are rare and only serve to frighten people.

But I believe that keeping silent would be criminal. If indeed nothing has changed since Vladimirova's tragedy in 2001, officials need to take notice and assure women they will be safe. The only way to do this is to punish those responsible for terrible care, not just pay victims 200,000 rubles. I shudder to think that Vladimirova might be one of many women to lose their babies because of the incompetence and negligence at local clinics.

Vladimir Kovalyev is a Staff Writer at The St. Petersburg Times.