A hearing-impaired man was locked up in a mental institution for six days by mistake after police officers and medical staff were unable to communicate with him properly because there was no sign language interpreter around.
The man surnamed Liu was arrested on Nov. 30 last year after a quarrel with his mother, who called the police and said her son had hit her, Apple Daily reports.
Police investigators tried to talk to Liu but could not take his testimony in the absence of a sign language interpreter.
They decided to send him to Tuen Mun Hospital, but the staff there were also unable to talk to him.
Doctors asked him by writing if he had hit his mother, and Liu responded that he “did not hit mother”.
He also wrote that “mother is bad” and “there has been a misunderstanding”.
Two days later, the doctors offered to send Liu to Castle Peak Hospital, a mental institution, and Liu signed a form to confirm his consent to his transfer, hk01.com reported.
It was only after Liu’s friend, identified as Kit, had learned of his confinement in the hospital that efforts were made to have him released.
Kit first contacted Liu’s doctor, Wong Kwok-wai, a Chinese medicine practitioner, who knew how to communicate with him using sign language.
Wong said after he received Kit’s message on Dec. 3, he immediately called the hospital to clarify that Liu was only hearing-impaired and was not suffering from psychiatric illness.
He also urged the hospital to get a sign language interpreter to facilitate the consultation process.
However, the hospital said it lacked the resources for that and would instead handle the case in its own way.
Wong decided to go to the hospital, but he was not able to secure Liu’s release because he is not a relative and there were no doctors in the hospital, it being a Saturday.
A nurse told him that Liu had to stay in the institution for another week.
Wong and Kit then contacted Liu’s sister, who didn’t know about his confinement as she was living separately.
She visited Liu and was told by the doctor that the patient had been confined in isolation because his mother had claimed that he was suffering from a mental illness and had violent tendencies.
Liu’s sister told the doctor that her brother is only hearing-impaired and not mentally ill. She also noted that Liu was late in his education and learned to write only when he was ten.
She doubted whether her brother understood the hospital’s transfer form before signing it as there was no interpreter to explain to him the details.
She then contacted Siu Tsan, founder of Silence, a local charity that helps hearing-impaired people, and legislator Fernando Cheung for assistance.
Cheung decried the lack of transparency and sensitivity in the handling of the case, which resulted in having a man sent to a mental institution by mistake.
He also criticized the medical staff for their horrible judgment and lack of understanding of how to deal with hearing-impaired patients.
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