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Friday, December 3, 2021

International healthcare watchdog investigates HMC over treatment of Villaggio fire victims



Hamad Medical Corp. is being investigated by Joint Commission International (JCI), a worldwide healthcare accrediting body, following a complaint lodged by Martin and Jane Weekes, the parents of the 2-year-old triplets who died in the Villaggio fire.

The Weekes’ complaint, in the form of a detailed letter originally sent to HMC by Jane Weekes and seen by Doha News, includes a number of alleged failings that she said prompted the couple to feel “let down in what was the worst time of our lives.”

The list includes:

  • That the triplets were not embalmed properly before leaving Qatar, meaning that their bodies had deteriorated by the time they arrived home in New Zealand;
  • That the ambulance which took their daughter Lillie to the hospital was not stocked properly, and that pediatric oxygen masks were not available. Jane Weekes says that the adult mask kept slipping off Lillie’s face;
  • That although Lillie was still being treated when she reached hospital, her parents were not told she had died until they were asked to identify her in the morgue; 
  • That the non-nursing staff who were assigned to stay with the families were unable to offer any practical help and provided empty reassurances; and
  • That no autopsy appeared to have taken place, despite assurances in the ongoing trial that this had been done.

JCI confirmed in correspondence with the Weekes that it was investigating the complaints, but declined to comment to Doha News, citing confidentiality issues.

JCI provides healthcare accreditation services to hospitals in Asia, Europe, the Middle East and South America. It’s recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a key partner in patient safety around the world.

Accreditation risk

According to the group’s website, if “serious concerns” have been raised in a complaint, JCI officials may visit the hospital to investigate; ask the hospital to produce a written response to the complaint; or bring up the complaint at the hospital’s next accreditation survey – which means that the hospital’s international accreditation could be at risk.

This would not put the hospital out of business, but could do serious damage to HMC’s reputation as one of the region’s premiere healthcare providers. 

HMC has not yet responded to questions from Doha News about the investigation.

But David Astley, Tertiary Hospitals Group Chief at HMC, did respond to the Weekes’ letter last July apologizing for the family’s experience at the hospital, stating that “this was the first incident of its kind here” and that the corporation had “already embarked on a lengthy investigative and learning exercise.” 

However, though the letter promised an update “as soon as possible,” the family said they are still waiting for further communication more than six months later.


Among the chief complaints raised by the Weekes is that their children were not embalmed, despite receiving a certificate from HMC stating that they had been.

Gavin Murphy, a National Examiner in Embalming in New Zealand, who was commissioned by the Weekes to examine the children’s bodies, wrote in a report:

“I was surprised to see that there were no identifying points that would indicate that the deceased had been embalmed,” he states. “Relying on refrigeration alone for preservation does require more luck than process and skill….

We were extremely disappointed with the quality of care the three children received in Qatar. As a minimum, arterial embalming should have taken place to ensure maximum preservation.”

Murphy also noted that there were no obvious signs that autopsies had taken place.

A long wait

The Weekes’ complaint about the lengthy delay in finding out any news about their loved ones’ fate is echoed by widower Louie Aban, husband of 29-year-old Gympanzee accountant Maribel Orosco.

He told Doha News that he also was unaware his wife had died for many hours after the fire:

“I was told my wife had been taken out onto the roof of Villagio. Then I went to check the bodies, and I could not find my wife. They told me they had put her in an ambulance and taken her to Hamad. So I went to the ER, and the parents were coming one by one. We stayed there until 6 o’clock before they told us anything.

I gave them a picture of my wife and identifications, the jewelry she was wearing… All information was taken, but no one confirmed to me that they had found my wife. Some of the parents already knew that their children were dead, but I was still praying at that time. I didn’t lose hope. Then, they took me to the mortuary to see if they could find my wife. They pulled out the adults one by one. I identified the three teachers first. The last one was my wife. I just cried.”

Aban also believes that no autopsy or embalming had been carried out on his wife, as she was still fully dressed in her original clothes when he went to prepare her body for repatriation to the Philippines.  


Credit: Top photo by Shabina Khatri; second photo courtesy of the Weekes family


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