Chuukese Couple Sues Hawai'i Hospital For Wrongful Death Of Child

Migrants from FSM say Kapiolani Medical Center failed to diagnose, treat son; provide proper translation

By Natanya Friedheim

HONOLULU, Hawai‘i (Honolulu Civil Beat, Dec. 1, 2016) – A Chuukese couple is suing Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children, where their 9-month-old son died after a series of visits to the hospital’s emergency room in 2015.

According to the suit filed in U.S. District Court by Honolulu attorney Eric Seitz, the hospital failed to properly examine, diagnose and treat the baby, who was not identified in court documents.

The hospital also failed to take adequate measures to communicate with Terie Singemasa, the child’s mother, who speaks Chuukese and “very little” English, Seitz said.

“They made no effort to get an interpreter,” Seitz said of the hospital staff.

According to Seitz, Singemasa and her husband, Kisichy Esa, migrated to Hawaii from Chuuk, part of the Federated States of Micronesia. They live with their children in a public housing complex in Kalihi. Esa works as a dishwasher in Waikiki, and Singemasa is a stay-at-home mother.

The family usually receives medical care from a health clinic in Kalihi, Seitz said, but their son’s illness warranted visits to the ER.

Singemasa first brought her son to the ER at Kapiolani in June 2015, according to a chronology in the lawsuit. Nine days later, they returned when his condition worsened from a cough and fever, to diarrhea and vomiting. Singemasa left with her son after he was discharged, but brought him back a third time just seven hours later, the suit states.

During the third visit, after a failed attempt at connecting the baby to an IV tube, Singemasa was given instructions in English to give her son more fluids, the suit states.

“I think she partially understood those instructions,” said Seitz. “But hydrating by mouth was not a substitute for IV.”

They returned again 10 hours later, the suit states, and during the final visit, the baby was pronounced dead. A medical examiner’s report cited bronchopneumonia as the cause of death, the suit states.

Hospital spokeswoman Kristen Bonilla declined Wednesday to comment specifically about the case, but issued this statement:

"Kapiolani Medical Center for Women & Children has policies and procedures in place to provide interpreter services for patients, parents and guardians with limited English proficiency. Professional interpreters are available to provide interpretation services either in person or via phone or video. These services are available for languages commonly spoken in Hawaii, the Pacific Region and throughout the United States. Patients, parents and guardians with limited English proficiency are informed of their right to this service, though they may choose to decline it."

Interpretation Can ‘Completely Change A Medical Visit’

One in four Hawaii residents 5 and older speak a language other than English at home, with the highest population of non-English speakers concentrated on Oahu, according to a study by the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.

A federal executive order and state law require hospitals that receive federal or state funding to offer interpretation and translation options to patients with limited English proficiency.

It’s a critical service to provide in a hospital setting, said Helena Manzano, executive director of the state’s Office of Language Access.

“People in Hawaii tend to not complain,” Manzano said, “so we don’t know if these services are happening.”

Along with the Republic of the Marshall Islands and the Republic of Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia is part of the Compact of Free Association nations. Migrants from these countries are part of a population that has for decades migrated to the United States, partially in a quest for better medical care.

Today, an estimated 15,000 people from COFA nations live in Hawaii.

Kokua Kalihi Valley, a health clinic based in Kalihi Valley, offers medical services to immigrant populations with a multitude of languages and English proficiency levels.

It’s hard to find qualified interpreters for clinics and hospitals, says Dr. David Derauf, executive director at Kokua Kalihi Valley. But it can “completely change a medical visit,” by providing a more thorough patient history, he said.

In Hawaii’s larger hospitals, lack of access to language interpreters can affect the care and access that members of Hawaii’s immigrant communities receive, according to Dina Shek, legal director of the Medical-Legal Partnership for Children in Hawaii.

“If you can’t communicate with someone, especially in the emergency room, you really have to question what level of care you’re providing,” Shek said.

This article originally appeared on the Honolulu Civil Beat website. Used with permission.
Copyright © 2016 Honolulu Civil Beat. All Rights Reserved

Rate this article: 
Average: 3.2 (6 votes)


In addition to the alleged inadequate interpretation service, how could the Hospital missed the symptoms of a bronchopneumonia that the medical examiner found during the autopsy, after the baby had made repeated visits even on the same day? It's incomprehensible that the Hospital would be giving a patient IV when pneumonia of the lungs is manifesting itself on those repeated visits. My two children were born at the Kapiolani Hospital during the First Compact of Free Association between the US and the FSM. I was forever grateful. But this report about missed diagnosis on repeated visits with IV as the only treatment provided, it sounded like the Hospital did not even try to diagnose the child on those repeated visits. It sounded like the Hospital more than failed to follow standard medical practice in the community; it sounded like the Hospital simply did not want to provide any medical attention. Sad.

CHUUK STATE ATTORNEY GENERAL SAID ON FB: Sabino Asor "It sounds like the problem is more than just a failure on the Hospital's part to provide translations service to the family; it sounded like the Hospital simply did not want to diagnose and treat the child even on those repeated visits. How can they not find the bronchopneumonia condition on those repeated visits and the medical examiner found it during autopsy? How sad for Kapiolani Hospital." The Attorney General Sabino Asor should wake up and realize that the Chuuk State Hospital is horrible and that Chuukese are leaving Chuuk for health care reasons. Chuuk's hospital would be open to many lawsuits but nothing happens because people will not speak out, do not know the law and the Chuuk State Government permits horrible medical services to continue there. AG Asor, "Get your own house in order."

Fire who ever work on baby.

I feel pity for the hospital. As an educator, I find it is a very hard task to teach students with different language especially in English. I do know that English is the only way to communicate around the world. We Micronesians need to learn English as much as we can so we can use it where ever we go.

Add new comment