A fire at a South Korean hospice killed 21 people and injured seven others on Wednesday, May 28, local time, officials said.
A patient suffering from dementia is suspected of setting the blaze, according to Bloomberg Press.
“The 81-year-old patient is under investigation, police officer Lee Soon Jae said, citing closed-circuit television footage at the Hyosarang hospital for the elderly in Jangseong County, about 280 kilometers (170 miles) south of Seoul,” Bloomberg reported.
Most of the victims were elderly patients in their 70s and 80s who were suffering from Alzheimer’s, stroke or other chronic diseases, although one nurse was among those killed, police and fire officials said, according to South Korean news outlet Yonhap. They died after suffocating on poisonous gas, officials told the Associated Press.
The blaze broke out on the second floor of an annex of the hospital. Officials said 35 patients and the nurse were on the second floor at the time of the fire, which was quickly put out, the AP reported.
Safety is a particularly critical issue in a dementia ward or hospice with Alzheimer’s patients, due to the type of hallucinations they might have or anxieties. They may feel someone is trying to hurt them, or, because of visual impairment, a patterned rug is really a lake of snakes.
In Maclean’s magainze, in January 2014, Ken MacQueen wrote an eloquent piece on the issue after there were three deaths in different homes across the country:
“A 74-year-old woman in Halifax’s Evan Hall dementia ward was also accused last year of killing fellow residents in care. … An investigation determined charges weren’t in the public interest, presumably because of her mental state. She was neither arrested nor removed from the facility where the assault took place. “Evan Hall is already a secure facility,” says Halifax Regional Police spokesman Const. Pierre Bourdages. “She is being well taken care of there.”
According to MacQueen, “The Halifax case speaks to the challenges and risks for care-home staff in balancing the safety of residents and the rights of perpetrators unable to remember, or comprehend the impact of their aggression. … The five known care-home homicides in 2013 [in Canada] are a sadly typical statistic and the mere tip of the thousands of incidents annually of resident-to-resident aggression and violence in care homes and dementia wards across the country.”
“The grey tsunami presents unique challenges to our communities, our health care system and our justice system,” Suzanne Anton, B.C.’s attorney general and a former Crown prosecutor, told a symposium on elder abuse in November.
Read more at Old and Dangerous
In the South Korean incident, “The number of victims is large because the patients were sleeping and most of them have problems moving due to senile illnesses including Alzheimer’s,” Park Yong Gu, an official at the region’s emergency services control center, according to Bloomberg.
“I’ve committed a grave sin,” hospital director Lee Hyung-seok told reporters, according to Yonhap. “There is no excuse when valuable lives were sacrificed.”
Officials said Hyosarang Hospital recently underwent safety checks, Yonhap reported.