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Report says Futaba hospital can't be blamed for patients' deaths s

October 1, 2012


Hospital blameless in patient deaths during nuke disaster evacuation: report




A hospital near the disaster-stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant made no mistakes during a hasty evacuation in March 2011 during which 40 patients and nursing home residents lost their lives, according to a report released on Sept. 30 by investigators commissioned by the hospital.

"The deaths were caused by the nuclear disaster," the report on the evacuation of Futaba Hospital in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, concluded, adding that "the hospital did everything it could, and committed no errors." The report furthermore emphasized that, despite the hospital's repeated requests for help from the municipal authorities and the Self-Defense Forces (SDF), the evacuation of the patients began late and took too long once started, both of which played a part in the deaths.

The report was presented to 124 attendees at a Sept. 30 briefing in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, including 60 surviving family of the deceased patients and families of some residents at the neighboring nursing home Deauville Futaba, who also passed away during the evacuation. Not all of the attendees were satisfied with the report, put together by two attorneys representing the hospital administration, with some questioning whether the hospital was in fact completely blameless, and others angry that the final document contained no apology for the loss of their loved ones.

The report stated: "The nuclear disaster forced the hospital to evacuate to a location at least 20 kilometers away, and put the facility in a position where aid was difficult to obtain. As such, there is a causal relationship between the nuclear disaster and the patient deaths."

Hospital Director Ichiro Suzuki, 78, told attendees at the briefing, "It's very unfortunate that so many of our patients died, but I have no intention of apologizing" -- apparently drawing shock and anger from some bereaved family members.

The investigation, led by attorney Kiyonari Inoue, was launched in May 2011, and collected information and statements from several organizations that participated in the evacuation, including the Okuma town government, the Fukushima Prefectural disaster response headquarters, and the SDF. The details of the evacuation contained in the report, however, differed little from those laid out in the central government's investigative report on the nuclear disaster released in July this year. Director Suzuki stated that the hospital plans to continue its investigation, and will also provide surviving family members who are filing compensation claims against nuclear plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) with all the information it has obtained.

One 73-year-old man who said he lost his 43-year-old nephew during the hospital evacuation told the Mainichi he wasn't at all satisfied with the report.

"The director's words were so plain. He didn't communicate any emotion," the 43-year-old said. His nephew, who had a muscle-wasting disease, was among the last group of patients to be evacuated from Futaba Hospital on March 16, 2011 -- five days after the earthquake and tsunami that triggered the nuclear disaster. He died soon after his arrival at a hospital in Nihonmatsu, Fukushima Prefecture.

A woman from Okuma who lost two relatives at the Deauville Futaba nursing home also left the information session unhappy.

"It really looked like the hospital was just trying to justify its actions. I'm not convinced by what they're saying," she said.

One 54-year-old man whose 82-year-old father was a resident at the Deauville Futaba nursing home, however, was more conciliatory, telling the Mainichi, "In my opinion, an earthquake plus a nuclear disaster is sure to cause panic. The late start to the evacuation couldn't be helped."

The evacuation took three routes over the course of four days. According to both the central government and hospital reports, on March 12, 209 of the hospital's 338 patients plus 64 staff boarded buses provided by the municipality for the prefectural town of Miharu, where they spent the night in a junior high school gym before heading to Iwaki the next day.

Director Suzuki, who had stayed behind with the remaining patients, pleaded with the police and the SDF to evacuate them. Aid did not come, however, until about 4 a.m. on March 14, when the SDF took 34 patients and all 98 residents of the Deauville Futaba nursing home to a health care center in Minamisoma, north of the hospital and the nuclear plant.

The passengers were scheduled to take a different set of buses from there to Iwaki, but the head of the health center thought their conditions made the transfer too difficult. This meant that the SDF buses, which were supposed to head back to Okuma to retrieve the people still at Futaba Hospital, ended up taking a circuitous five-hour journey to Iwaki with their first load of patients, eight of whom died en route or soon after arriving in Iwaki.

Back in Okuma, Suzuki waited for the SDF to come back. However, at about 10 p.m. on March 14, a police officer ordered him to evacuate temporarily to neighboring Kawauchi village. This and other moves confused attempts to link up with the SDF again until 9 a.m. on March 15. The remaining Futaba Hospital patients were sent in two groups to Nihonmatsu, the last arriving at midnight.

Four patients died at Futaba Hospital while waiting for evacuation, and one went missing.


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