Tami Hui Mei-fun remembers the day she picked up the phone and listened to an angry caller complaining that she could not make a video call to her mother, a patient at Caritas Medical Centre.
The woman was angry with the nurses, saying she wanted to see if her mother was eating and sleeping well. Her outbursts were upsetting the ward staff.
That was in February last year, as Hong Kong’s deadly fifth wave of Covid-19 infections was surging and all hospital visits had been suspended.
Hui, a patient relations officer at the hospital, spoke to the woman and soon discovered the reason for her distress – her father had died from Covid-19 two months earlier and she was desperate to know how her mother was faring.
“There were reasons for her shouting and making seemingly unreasonable demands. She simply could not bear to lose her mother too,” Hui said.
Besides caring for the sick, health workers at Hong Kong hospitals also had to comfort patients’ family members, as the public system became overwhelmed.
Hui, who has worked at Caritas Medical Centre for more than 15 years, and Dr Ng Kwok-leung, clinical coordinator for patient relations and engagement at United Christian Hospital, won prizes from the ombudsman at the end of last year for handling complaints during the crisis.
The independent government watchdog awards prizes every year to public departments and civil servants to recognise their dedication in handling complaints.
Hui and Ng, whose ages were not provided by the Hospital Authority but who were both identified as long-standing members of staff, said the key to dealing with often emotionally charged complaints from upset family members lay in breaking through their anger to understand their concerns.
Ng, a paediatrician who began handling complaints in 2002, recalled an occasion when the daughter of an elderly Covid-19 patient who had been discharged called to demand medical follow-up services at their home.