Heybeliada, one of Istanbul's tourist islands, experienced a healthcare scandal on Aug. 11 when 22-year-old Ali Mert Baltacı injured his arm in a home accident and later had to be brought under intensive care because he was unable to receive immediate medical assistance due to the lack of hospitals on the island, bringing the issue to the spotlight, with residents of the Princes' Islands complaining about the lack of medical services.
Baltacı accidentally cut his arm on the glass panel of a wardrobe at home around 4 a.m. on Aug. 11. He went out to seek help and his friends took him to a nearby pharmacy, where he fainted. As there are no hospitals on the island, they called a sea ambulance, the 112 emergency service.
According to his friends, the ambulance was unable to take him to a hospital in İstanbul because it did not have fuel at the time. His friends later asked police officers to take Baltacı to a military infirmary, which is also not sufficiently medically equipped, but the policemen said they did not want blood stains in their car.
After a series of unfortunate incidents, the young man was brought to the intensive care unit at Kartal Training and Research Hospital. It turned out that the glass had cut an artery. His doctor told the media that Baltacı might not have been in intensive care if the ambulance had arrived earlier.
The İstanbul Provincial Directorate of Health made a statement on the incident, stating that the ambulance arrived within 20 minutes and it had fuel, in addition to noting that a hospital project on Heybeliada was under way.
Baltacı's sister, who later spoke to the media, said: “We are talking about a human life here. A 22-year-old man will resume his life with one arm because our hospital was closed down just for some people to earn more money. Such incidents will definitely happen in the future as well. This is not just an island for tourists; we live here and have no hospitals.”
On Aug. 14, nearly 500 people gathered outside the Heybeliada Ferry Lines seaport, holding placards in protest of what Baltacı experienced and demanding 24-hour medical services on their island. The residents of the island also launched a Twitter campaign and started gathering signatures on Change.org in order to bring awareness to the lack of medical assistance on the island.
Heybeliada Muhtar (neighborhood head) Aslı Yalap, speaking to Sunday's Zaman on the issue, said, “Think about it, when you cut your hand or foot, there is nowhere you can go.”
According to Yalap, following the Aug. 11 incident, a land ambulance started operating on Aug. 26, a new service for island residents. The ambulance goes to the houses of those who call 112 and provides medical assistance in the event of an emergency.
Yalap says a sanatorium, which was a well-known part of the island, was closed down in 2005. The Ministry of Health is working on a project for a private healthcare center on the 260,000-square-meter area of the former sanatorium, which is currently in the tender stages.
Since 2005, when the Heybeliada sanatorium was closed, the islanders have made various efforts to pressure officials to build a hospital or a health center on the island. According to Yalap, committees representing the islanders previously went to Ankara and had talks with the Ministry of Health, expressing their demand.
There are nine islands of İstanbul widely known as the Princes' Islands, and five of them --Büyükada, Kınalıada, Burgazada, Heybeliada and Sedef -- are inhabited. However, among those five islands, only Büyükada has a hospital, which is said to be inadequate and planned to be renovated.
‘No doctor on 4 of islands after 5 p.m.'
Haluk Eyidoğan, a Republican People's Party (CHP) İstanbul deputy and a resident of Heybeliada who previously wrote a letter to the Ministry of Health demanding permanent medical services on the islands, said this is not only a problem on Heybeliada but also on the other İstanbul islands as well.
According to him, only family doctors work on the four islands -- excluding Büyükada -- and they are only on duty between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. every day.
In remarks to Sunday's Zaman, Eyidoğan said, “Every family who lives on the islands has unhappy memories because of their inability to receive proper healthcare services.”
According to Eyidoğan, when there is a health emergency, the islanders' only option is to call a sea ambulance, which is based on Büyükada and has been in service for two years now. “There is only one sea ambulance serving the residents of all five islands. In addition, except for Büyükada, you cannot find emergency equipment or doctors operating 24 hours a day, even when there is an incident involving loss of blood or a heart attack,” Eyidoğan says.
Eyidoğan says the islands' population is around 14,800 in the winter but increases to 80,000 in the summer, or even 200,000 over the weekends. He states that the islanders demand more than one sea ambulances as well as health stations which provide emergency medical services 24 hours a day if they cannot have a proper hospital.