'Heartless': Illawarra health bosses slug cancer victim

Filipino couple Oscar and Pat Espinosa have been hit with a hefty bill for Mr Espinosa's emergency surgery for bowel cancer. Picture: KIRK GILMOUR
Filipino couple Oscar and Pat Espinosa have been hit with a hefty bill for Mr Espinosa's emergency surgery for bowel cancer. Picture: KIRK GILMOUR

A Wollongong surgeon has branded Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District management "heartless and soulless" for refusing to waive hospital fees for an elderly Filipino man forced to undergo cancer surgery.

Dr Allan Mekisic waived his own fees after discovering that 74-year-old Oscar Espinosa was staying with his Wollongong-based daughter after his house was destroyed in last year's catastrophic typhoon in the Philippines.

The general surgeon implored ISLHD management to waive their fees on compassionate grounds, after Mr Espinosa underwent an emergency operation to remove a cancerous tumour in his bowel on June 18.

Despite his written pleas to ISLHD chief executive Sue Browbank and chairman Denis King, a bill for more than $22,000 landed on Mr Espinosa's daughter's doorstep this week.

"I believe the chief executive and chairman have a moral obligation to serve patients in the Illawarra that are particularly vulnerable, like Oscar," Dr Mekisic said.

"They were given the opportunity to show leadership and compassion to a patient who had survived a natural disaster, had undergone major surgery and is now battling cancer.

"But they have chosen to be heartless and soulless ... and they have demonstrated that they have no empathy to human suffering.

"It's totally un-Australian - we usually help people who are in trouble."

Dr Mekisic said he had received a reply from Professor King on June 25, which stated that he understood it was a "difficult situation" and would discuss the issue with Ms Browbank who would be "in touch shortly".

He has not heard from Ms Browbank.

"I informed them that he was an overseas visitor living with his daughter and was not covered by Medicare or private health insurance," Dr Mekisic said.

He said Mr Espinosa's daughter - a low-income earner with children and a mortgage - could not afford the hefty hospital bill either.

Mr Espinosa and his wife Pat were visibly distressed when talking to the Mercury on Thursday.

"Our house was destroyed in the Philippines, we do not have a source of income, so it is hard," Mr Espinosa said.

"We are profoundly grateful for Dr Mekisic's help - and we are thankful to the wonderful surgical team and the nursing staff who showed such care and kindness."

Further treatment including chemotherapy will be required, with more bills set to mount up over coming months, before Mr Espinosa is well enough to return home.

"I've never been sick - I passed the medical to come out here to visit my daughter," he said.

Dr Mekisic, who has a private practice and is a visiting medical officer at Wollongong Hospital, said Mr Espinosa's hospital stay would not have come at huge cost to the district.

"I don't think the district would be out of pocket - I waived my fees and they did not have to employ any additional nurses or staff," he said.

A spokesperson for the Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District said visitors from overseas were treated at the district's hospitals "in line with NSW Health policies and procedures".

"Hospital staff including social workers had discussions with the family about the costs and payment options associated with treatment at Wollongong Hospital," the spokesperson said.

"The family indicated that they understood and accepted the options available to them.

"If the family's circumstances have changed we would encourage them to directly approach the general manager of Wollongong Hospital to enable further consideration and assessment."


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