Peru arrests state hospital workers for charging COVID-19 patients $21,000 per bed


FILE PHOTO: People wait next to empty oxygen tanks to fill them up for patients suffering from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), outside a private oxygen supplier, in Lima, Peru February 25, 2021. REUTERS/Sebastian Castaneda

LIMA (Reuters) - Peruvian police said on Wednesday they had dismantled an alleged criminal ring that had charged as much $21,000 per bed for seriously ill COVID-19 patients in a state-run hospital, aggravating care in a country hit by one of the world's deadliest outbreaks of the virus.

Authorities arrested nine people in an early morning raid on Wednesday, including the administrators of Lima's Guillermo Almenara Irigoyen public hospital, according to prosecutor Reynaldo Abia.

The scam was uncovered after police received a complaint from the brother of a man suffering from COVID-19 who had been asked for 82,000 soles ($20,783) to obtain an intensive care (ICU) bed and treatment at the hospital, said Abia.

Health Minister Óscar Ugarte told reporters the scam warranted immediate repercussions. "This is totally reprehensible," he said. "We cannot be negotiating with people's lives."

Corruption scandals around virus care have already rattled the highest levels of power in Peru. Outrage over prior allegations that some top officials had been granted preferential "VIP" vaccinations prompted the country's health and foreign ministers to resign earlier this year.

The hospital involved in the more recent scandal, administered by the EsSalud social security system, provides free care. Patients must endure a long waiting list for the 80 ICU beds the hospital offers.

During the peak of the pandemic, many patients paid large sums of money to private clinics as the public system neared collapse. The number of available ICU beds has since soared to nearly 3,000 nationwide, compared to just hundreds available in March last year, but beds are still in high demand in the Andean nation.

Peru in late May tripled its official death count from the virus and leads the world in deaths per 100,000 inhabitants from the disease.

(Reporting by Reuters TV, writing by Marco Aquino and Dave Sherwood; Editing by Aurora Ellis)

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