A couple has sued Kenyatta National Hospital for detaining their son for five months because of a Sh600,000 medical bill.
Bernard Muriuki-a teacher together with his wife, Christine Njeri, want the court to declare that the incarceration violated and contravened their rights to dignity and health by detaining the two-year-old under deplorable conditions for unsettled hospital bills.
They also claim that their rights were violated by being subjected to ridicule among family, friends, patients, and staff at the hospital, who viewed them as irresponsible parents for being unable to pay the minor’s hospital bills. They want damages “for false imprisonment”.
The child was discharged by Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) doctors on May 9, 2022, but was detained until October 31, when the High Court ordered his release.
The detention resulted from the minor’s parents’ inability to pay the sum of Sh651,959 in the form of incurred medical bills.
Mr Muriuki is a teacher employed by the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) and working at Donholm Primary School Nairobi.
He filed the constitutional petition through the legal aid group Kituo Cha Sheria at the High Court in Milimani, challenging the hospital’s decision to continue detaining his wife and child.
Pending the hearing and determination of the petition, the High Court has ordered KNH to release the minor. In the order dated October 31, 2022, the court also directed TSC to deduct Sh6,000 from Mr Muriuki’s monthly salary and remit it to KNH.
Through lawyer Nelius Njuguna, the couple says the hospital bills at KNH rose to Sh1,166,423 as of August 24, 2022, due to the continued detention of the minor and the mother.
“The petitioners’ case is that they have no obligation to pay any expenses that may have been incurred by KNH in connection with the unlawful detention. The petitioners to date have been trying to raise money to offset the hospital bills and have managed to raise Sh42,000 which was not enough to offset the hospital bill,” says Ms Njuguna.
She explains that the couple further sought assistance from a nursing officer at KNH who agreed to be their guarantor to ensure the release of the minor but the undertaking was rejected by KNH.
They also sought help from the National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF), requesting assistance in offsetting the bill, and the Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Council (KMPDC), requesting intervention for the release of the minor.
KMPDC ordered KNH to release the minor and urged the parties to enter into an agreement with the view of clearing the outstanding hospital bill. The council on September 12, 2022, wrote to KNH informing the hospital that detention of the persons pending clearance of unsettled bills is illegal.
“Throughout all these interventions, KNH has refused to release the minor and the hospital continues to unlawfully detain the minor. The petitioners’ case is that the continued detention of the minor has caused them untold anguish and trauma,” says lawyer Njuguna.
She states that although Mr Muriuki is insured by Minet Kenya Insurance Brokers Limited under the medical scheme for teachers employed by TSC, the insurer failed to clear the minor’s medical bill at KNH on grounds that he had exhausted the insurance limit.
The minor fell ill on March 21, 2022 and was taken to Bliss Medical Centre. The following day he was transferred to Nairobi West Hospital, where he was admitted until April 6, when he was referred to KNH for further treatment. At Nairobi West Hospital the bill was Sh442,916 and was settled by the insurance firm.
“At the time the minor was discharged from KNH, they were informed that they had a pending hospital bill of Sh651,959 and due to Minet’s failure to inform them on time of the exhaustion of the insurance limit, they had no money set aside to pay the hospital bills or have the opportunity to make other plans to offset the bills,” says Ms Njuguna.
They were unable to settle the bill at KNH and this led to the detention of the minor together with his mother since May 9.
“I was shocked to learn that there were unpaid hospital bills because to my knowledge, Minet was covering all the medical expenses. At all material times during the treatment of the minor, Minet had approved all treatment offered at KNH including ambulance services and admission. At no point did Minet inform me that my medical insurance cover limit had been exhausted,” says Mr Muriuki.
Court documents indicate that the mother was detained until September 4, 2022 “when she was assaulted by KNH staff and as a result, she was forcefully separated from the minor”.
In his affidavit, Mr Muriuki claims that his son’s rights had been severely infringed by the hospital for continuous detention without any further treatment until the incurred bill of over Sh1,166,423 has been cleared.
He wants the court to issue an order for the award of compensation for the violation of their fundamental human rights and general damages for false imprisonment and loss of earning capacity during incarceration and unlawful detention.
The case will be heard on January 31, 2023.