Health minister apologizes for hospital fire, announces aid

Taipei, Health Minister Chen Shih-chung (???) apologized Monday to the public and people who were killed or injured in a fire in the central government-run Taipei Hospital last week.

Chen bowed to apologize at a press conference and said he felt saddened by the tragic accident, which claimed 13 lives.

The Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW) will give the family of each victim NT$1 million (US$32,500) as a form of consolation, in addition to the NT$50,000 in consolation money they have already been given, Chen said.

Aside from the people who died, seven people who were hurt in the fire are still in intensive care at the hospital and nine are being treated in regular inpatient wards.

Chen was harshly criticized by opposition Kuomintang lawmakers for "having hidden" for one week after the deadly fire broke out early in the morning of Aug. 13 at the MOHW-run Taipei Hospital in Xinzhuang District, New Taipei.

He responded Monday that he was in Papua New Guinea for an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting last week, and was badly delayed when transiting through Manila on his way home, keeping him from returning to Taiwan before Saturday night.

"As soon as I arrived (in Taiwan), I rushed to the hospital to visit the injured," Chen said at the press conference.

The MOHW, he said, has made several arrangements for the injured, including assigning social workers to visit victims' families to provide care and having the hospital absorb all of the medical bills involved.

The ministry has also reviewed the hospital's standard operating procedures in handling accidents and ways to prevent accidents from happening, Chen said.

Asked who should be held liable for the deadly fire, Chen said the case has been handed over to judicial authorities to let prosecutors unearth the truth. The MOHW will "do whatever it has to do" based on the results, he said.

An initial investigation by the New Taipei Fire Department found that the fire was triggered by a short circuit in a power cable connected to an electric mattress in the 7th floor long-term care ward.

Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel