Saturday, August 30, 2008

Vietnam's crowded hospitals a haven for pickpockets

Relatives of patients waiting to pay bills at a hospital in Ho Chi Minh City.
Rampant thieving at Ho Chi Minh City hospitals has added to the worries of patients and their families.

Last week, the relative of a patient at Gia Dinh People’s Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City was robbed while he took a shower.

He lost all his money, his cell phone and his trousers.

Many other patients and relatives of patients have reported similar crimes, as thieves and pickpockets apparently target hospital wards, public bathrooms and cashier departments.

HCMC’s hospitals are often crowded with relatives, who help care for the patients and pay hospital fees.

On Monday, a man who was attending his relative at Cho Ray Hospital on Monday had VND20 million (US$1200) stolen as he took a nap at the lobby.

A patient from the southern province of Ba Ria-Vung Tau had VND13.5 million ($810) stolen while at Cho Ray Hospital.

Last week, the relative of a patient at Thu Duc General Hospital also reported a thief had cut his cell phone out of his pocket while he was sleeping.

Guards at the HCMC Children Hospital No. 1 recently apprehended a mother-daughter team caught stealing a cell phone from a patient’s relative.

Daring thieves have even stolen hospital property.

Last month, thieves broke into the administrative office of Cho Ray Hospital and stole money, gold, aphoto camera and a MP3 player, with a total value estimated at more than VND100 million ($6,000).

The hospital said they had previously lost a digital camera from an operating room.

“Thieves often follow people to bathrooms to steal their pants, where people usually keep their wallets and other valuable items,” head of security at Gia Dinh People’s Hospital, Hoang Van Quy, said.

Quy said the guards nabbed a thief last week using this ploy.

The police of Ward 7 in Binh Thanh District, who handled the case, said the girl confessed to stealing another pair of trousers a day earlier.

He said the thieves used other tricks, including masquerading as relatives of patients or hawkers.

“The thieves often travel in groups and visit many hospitals to avoid being detected,” an official from HCMC Cancer and Tumor Hospital said.

Director of Tu Du Obstetric Hospital, Pham Viet Thanh, said thieves had even impersonated hospital workers.

“There have been cases when thieves have followed a patient’s relative into a bathroom and threatened and robbed them,” said Nguyen Van Xuyen, Director of Saigon General Hospital.

Director of the HCMC Children Hospital No. 1, Tang Chi Thuong, said many thefts occurred in the early hours of morning, when the patient’s relatives were sleeping after hours of tending to the patients.

An official from HCMC Hospital of Medicine and Pharmacy, Vu Tri Thanh, said thefts also took place at around 9 p.m., when the patients usually went to sleep, sometimes forgetting to lock the door.

Hospitals react

“We have requested police cooperation to help fight the increasing number of thefts,” said Vo Duy Thuc, an official from HCMC Cancer and Tumor Hospital.

Thuc said plain-clothes policemen now patrolled the hospital on the lookout for nefarious activities.

Their presence had helped reduce the number of thefts in recent months.

The HCMC Hospital of Medicine and Pharmacy said it had installed security cameras at the crowded sections in the hospitals.

“The pictures we record can also be used by police as evidence,” an official from the hospital said.

“We have hired professional security companies to work with hospital security staff to prevent thefts,” said Pham Viet Thanh, Director of Tu Du Obstetric Hospital.

Saigon General Hospital has also installed a bathroom in each patient’s room to reduce the risk of thefts in public bathrooms.

Reported by Thanh Tung – Nguyen Bao