Mafia corruption linked to 126 hospital deaths

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The Independent Online

The deadly price hospital patients pay for the rampant corruption and mob activity in southern Italy's health system has been highlighted by a parliamentary report suggesting nearly half of the country's unnecessary deaths occur in two Mafia-dominated regions.

There were 126 suspicious hospital deaths in Sicily and Calabria, out of a total of 276 nationwide in the two years from April 2009, according to the review led by MP Leoluca Orlando.

Both Sicily and Calabria are plagued by Mafia corruption. Experts have warned for years that their hospitals have been offering dangerously substandard care as mobsters cream off money. The Mafia is thought to make millions by ensuring big contracts go to companies they run or own – often in exchange for poor quality goods or services, or sometimes nothing at all.

Mr Orlando said investigations would continue into suspicious deaths in hospitals. "Ascertaining the truth is a moral obligation we owe to the victim and his or her family, and also to the citizens who continue to put their trust in the public heath system," he said.

Corrado De Rosa, author of the Mafia exposé The Doctors of the Camorra, said: "Healthcare in the south has serious problems because politicians don't know how to administer it properly and because of the collusion with the Mafia.

"This makes the financial situation even worse and the health services cut the quality of the care they give because they haven't got enough money."

But Sicily's regional health spokesman, Massimo Russo, attacked the report, because, he said, not all of the cases had yet been confirmed as deaths resulting from medical negligence. "This is highly improper because it creates a climate of distrust that encourage patients to lose faith."

In 2007, the governor of Calabria, Agazio Loiero, closed wards and declared a "state of emergency" in his region's health system, and called on state intervention to combat corruption.

His intervention followed a series of suspicious deaths in Calabrian hospitals, including several at the Vibo Valentia Hospital. One case that hit the headlines was that of 16-year-old Eva Ruscio, who died at hospital only two days after a routine tonsil operation.

Mafia expert, Francesco Grignetti, wrote at the time in La Stampa newspaper: "The thing that plagued Eva has a precise name: 'Ndrangheta' (the feared Calabrian crime syndicate)."

A report into the health system's missing millions by the Guardia di Finanza, the police attached to Italy's finance ministry, concluded: "Ndrangheta hadn't simply infiltrated the Vibo Valentia Hospital; rather, they effectively ran it."

Govenor Loiero also said that lazy, inept doctors were, in part, to blame.

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