Los Angeles Times

In China, sixth stage of grief calls for a club

Relatives of deceased patients are attacking hospitals. Critics say it’s a ploy for money.

- Barbara Demick reporting from beijing barbara.demick @latimes.com Tommy Yang of The Times’ Beijing bureau contribute­d to this report.

Friends and relatives of a patient who died on the operating table marched on Nanchang Hospital No. 1 brandishin­g pitchforks and clubs. About 100 staff members, among them young doctors, prepared for the onslaught by arming themselves with long sticks and cans of mace, while the security guards donned police vests and helmets.

What followed was a pitched battle in the lobby atrium with horrified patients gawking from the floors above.

Although nobody was seriously injured in Tuesday’s melee, the incident brought attention to a wave of violence in Chinese public hospitals. In Nanchang, a provincial capital 300 miles southwest of Shanghai, a young doctor reportedly suffered a serious head injury in June after the family of a deceased patient led a protest that turned violent.

Last year, a doctor and nurse were stabbed to death in the eastern province of Shandong by the son of a man who had died 13 years earlier of liver cancer, while a pediatrici­an was badly injured jumping from a fifthfloor window to escape relatives of a baby who had died.

Medical personnel advocates complain that the more violent incidents are staged by hired thugs, paid by families of the deceased in hopes of winning compensati­on from the hospitals. Sometimes the protesters are from the same village or are semi-profession­als in causing trouble. The Chinese have even coined a word for the paid protesters: yinao, meaning “medical disturbanc­e.”

“It has become a very sophistica­ted system for chasing profits. Whenever somebody dies in a hospital, the yinao will get in touch with the family and offer their services in exchange for 30% to 40%,” said Liu Di, who is setting up a social network for medical profession­als.

Liu said the practice arose in the last few years as hospitals became more commercial­ized. “You see this mostly in second-or third-tier cities where the legal system is less developed.”

In Tuesday morning’s incident in Nanchang, hospital staff members learned that a mob of about 100 people was heading their way with crude weapons and took it upon themselves to mount a defense. Photograph­s and video posted on a local website showed men in white coats, apparently doctors, and T-shirted security guards brandishin­g what looked like oversize baseball bats.

“A lot of the young doctors and hospital security guards couldn’t stand it anymore and decided to pick up sticks and defend themselves,” a doctor from another Nanchang hospital, who gave his name as Lao Tang, wrote on his social networking site. “My fellow comrades, we fully support you! Well done!”

The switchboar­d at the hospital referred reporters Wednesday to the local Communist Party office, where telephones went unanswered.

Zhang Yuanxin, an Urumqi-based plaintiffs’ lawyer, said it was difficult to sue for medical malpractic­e, even in the most egregious cases, and that tempted people to take matters into their own hands.

“This is the direct result of the lack of rule of law and the lack of a well-establishe­d social welfare system,” Zhang said.

“Conflicts like these are inevitable and there will be many more if people can’t solve their problems through the law.”

With overcrowde­d public hospitals, China has experience­d a number of well-publicized scandals in which people were overcharge­d for unnecessar­y or dangerous treatments.

In the 1990s, at a time when local government­s were selling blood for profit, more than 1 million people contracted the AIDS virus through transfusio­ns at public hospitals. Often victims in these cases have had little recourse but to protest or petition — an archaic process that involves going to Beijing to file grievances with higher authoritie­s.

There have also been numerous nonviolent demonstrat­ions at hospitals, where families — or their representa­tives — dress themselves in the traditiona­l Chinese mourning color of white

‘I always tell my clients, if you start a big disturbanc­e, you’ll get a bigger compensati­on package. If you start a smaller disturbanc­e, you’ll get a smaller package. And if you don’t do anything, you’ll get nothing.’

— Xiao Ming,

self-described profession­al protester

and scatter fake paper money, an offering to the deceased in the afterlife.

This week alone, two major hospital protests were reported in addition to the one in Nanchang.

The family of a 29-yearold man who died of stomach cancer in the eastern city of Nanjing picketed the hospital, claiming he hadn’t been properly diagnosed and that they were threatened when they questioned his treatment.

In a public hospital in Guangdong, in the south, women staged a sit-in, wailing, screaming and refusing to leave, according to news reports.

Last month, a man who claimed to be a profession­al protester in Nanchang gave a newspaper interview in which he said that the local government usually chose to pay to quiet the protesters, “for the sake of social stability.”

“I always tell my clients, if you start a big disturbanc­e, you’ll get a bigger compensati­on package. If you start a smaller disturbanc­e, you’ll get a smaller package. And if you don’t do anything, you’ll get nothing,” the man, identified as 42-year-old Xiao Ming, was quoted as saying.

The Chinese government is getting tougher on hospital protesters. Last week, a court in the northeaste­rn city of Qingdao handed down what was reported to be the first prison sentence in such a case, sending a man to jail for 18 months for staging a riot at a hospital after the death of his father in January.

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