A 63-year-old cruise passenger was taken off a cruise ship after suffering a stroke onboard. According to reports, the victim was sailing onboard the luxury Silver Shadow vessel from Hobart to Kangaroo Island when he collapsed in the afternoon while the ship was just off the coast of Victoria.
At first, the passenger was treated by an onboard doctor, who determined the victim required immediate medical attention that he could not obtain onboard. Reports showed the victim was stable, but still required further care. So, the ship did something that not too many others have done before – it altered its itinerary so paramedics could safely pick up the victim and his wife and take them to the nearest hospital for treatment.
It was so uncharacteristic for a cruise line to deter an entire ship for one victim, that even Ambulance Victoria group manager Tony Oxford was shocked.
“It’s pretty rare but we have paramedics trained up to do this sort of thing and we select those paramedics to be deployed,” said Mr. Oxford, noting that this particular type of emergency procedure hasn’t happened in at least two years.
Our cruise ship accident lawyers here at Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A. are also pretty surprised the vessel’s crew decided to just turn the ship around for the victim. Usually, in very dire circumstances, an air evacuation is called, but the ship will continue along its planned itinerary.
We are very pleased with the Silver Shadow crew’s actions and hope other cruise lines learn from them and hopefully follow suit.
We can’t tell you how many times passengers who have suffered severe injuries or medical emergencies were either denied the medical attention they required or completely misdiagnosed.
We’ve written before about the so called “doctors” who are hired to work onboard cruise ships, and the truth surrounding their positions is nothing short of alarming.
In our two-part blog series titled Should Cruise Lines Be Held Liable for Their Onboard Doctor’s Medical Malpractice Incidents? Part 1 and Part 2, we talked about how the physicians employed on cruise ships aren’t actually employed most of the time. They are not on the payroll, and therefore, are not considered actual crew members.
What does this mean for ill or injured patients? For one, the care they are going to receive is subpar. The doctors may not even be fully trained to diagnose a malady, much less treat one, leading to several malpractice cases. Numerous cruise passengers have suffered extreme complications from their ailments because their “doctor” wasn’t able to diagnose and treat them for what they were actually suffering and because their doctor refused to give the go ahead to the captain to have the victim evacuated off the ship and transferred to the nearest hospital.
What’s worse is that victims and their loved ones are limited in filing complaints against the cruise lines for the wrongful actions of their doctors because since the physicians aren’t technically crew members, the lines absolve themselves from any sort of liability for the actions of the onboard doctors.
A few months ago, an elderly Azamara cruise passenger was left stranded in Turkey after suffering a medical emergency. The victim, 89-year-old Dodge Melkonian, fell and broke his hip inside his stateroom and while the onboard doctor acknowledged Mr. Melkonian required further treatment, the cruise line basically abandoned the passenger and his wife in Turkey and sent them to a local hospital that was filthy, where his wife couldn’t even go inside, and where no one spoke a word of English.
Thanks to the couple’s travel agent, they were able to get in contact with a very helpful tour guide who assisted them in getting to a different hospital, but to this day, Royal Caribbean International has refused to even acknowledge Azamara’s crew did anything wrong in leaving the victims stranded and alone.
While cruise ship doctors may be ill equipped to treat patients onboard, their facilities are also pretty subpar. If a vessel even has an onboard medical facility, it is only equipped to treat minor injuries or illnesses, and even then, it will cost a victim quite a substantial amount to be seen by an onboard physician – even if they are misdiagnosed or if what they are suffering from really turns out to be minor.
One thing cruise lines should look into doing – and which is long overdue – is to expand their onboard medical facilities. Ships are getting larger and larger these days, but their medical facilities continue to remain small and insufficiently equipped. With the millions upon millions the cruise industry spends each year on new ships or enhancements to old ones, one would think it would be common sense to improve the medical facilities – after all, if you are stranded in the middle of the ocean, the onboard medical quarters is your only hope for survival.
Sadly, not even the largest cruise ships in the world have hospital-like medical facilities, despite accommodating well over 4,000 passengers. A local pharmacy has better equipment to treat injuries and illnesses than a cruise ship!
We hope the new year will bring about major changes in the cruise industry, but if safety itself hasn’t been a significant priority for cruise lines, we doubt spending money on better medical quarters – and better doctors overall – will be on the top of the industry’s “To Do” list.