A Nigerian woman, Erinma Laurette Chamberlin and her baby, Benita have been allegedly confined to the 11th floor of a hospital in Mira Road, India for the last five months over her inability to clear her medical bills, even as the hospital has claimed that she has been discharged.
The 36-year old woman delivered a baby girl via Caesarean Section in September 2015, and hasn’t stepped out of the hospital since then. Her husband, Chamberlin Chiemela Ezeama, who is in Nigeria, has issued a legal notice to the Wockhardt Hospital alleging illegal detention of his wife and daughter.
According to the hospital management, Mrs Chamberlain’s medical visa has expired and her bill has now ballooned to around Rs 8 lakh (she is being charged around Rs 12,000 a day for the room alone), adding that she and her baby “were allowed to stay at the hospital on humanitarian grounds”, after her husband didn’t respond to calls and messages regarding the dues.
“Her husband has not bothered to take the family back home despite repeated requests, even when the woman was fit to be discharged 15 days after admission. Her bill is now more than Rs 8 lakh, largely because of the unnecessary stay due to his non-response regarding settling the bill or taking his family back,” a hospital official said in an email to the media.
Mrs Chamberlain said it was distressing to see her new-born not being allowed to return to her country.
“Back home, several women undergo a Caesarean Section end up dead. Friends suggested I travel to India as the country has fantastic medical facilities. I didn’t know that I would have the worst experience here,” she said.
Benita is Ernima’s fifth child, and anticipating complications during the pregnancy, she and her husband got in touch with the Wockhardt management, which helped Erinma secure a medical visa. She was admitted on September 15, and has been confined to the hospital’s room no. 1124, she alleged.
“Around a month after the surgery, I asked the doctor whether I was fit for discharge, to which she said yes. I began to make plans for our return to Nigeria when the management told me I could not be discharged as I hadn’t cleared the dues. I told them that we had already paid $3,000 (around Rs 1.89 lakh), and promised to stay in the city till we paid our dues. But they did not discharge me and my baby and I have been living in this room, for which I am charged $180 a day,” she said.
She claims that the hospital staffers are threatening her. “They would warn me that I will end up in jail and now I will see the ‘other’ side of India,” she said. “I am only allowed to take a stroll on the floor where my room is located. I am scared and worried, and my temperament is having a negative effect on my baby. Living in this room, I have lost track of time,” she added.
Erinma’s husband contacted advocate Utkarsh Srivastava of Adjuva Legal. He told this newspaper from Nigeria:
“I wrote to several government departments, including Sushma Swaraj’s office. I am ready to pay the dues but over a course of time during which my wife will stay in India. I am unable to visit India due to financial and immigration issues. But my wife and daughter are being wrongly detained in India. I have not yet held my daughter in my arms, I only get to see her on the phone.”
Erinma said that her acquaintance who lives in Mira Road was quizzed by the hospital staff, which scared her so much that she never returned to the hospital to see her.
“My only respite is that the nurses are really sweet to me and look after my daughter,” she said.
The hospital has already submitted complaints to the police, the foreigner regional registration offices, the Nigerian High Commission, and the Indian High Commission in Nigeria. A statement by the hospital said:
“The patient has been given the best of services. Nobody has barred the patient from leaving the hospital. The couple was unable to pay the entire amount due to constraints and a limit to the amount of money they can carry out of their country. The husband promised to send the money and said that the woman would stay in the hospital till the bills are settled. On numerous occasions, we had told her husband that her visa will expire, but he hasn’t taken any action. We have looked after the patient like a member of our family,”
The hospital also claims that said that Mrs Chambelain chose to remain in the hospital on her own accord as she wanted her baby to get vaccinated.