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March 29, 2012

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Medical staff cashing in by alerting funeral firms

DOCTORS, nurses and even ambulance drivers are being paid by funeral companies to give them information about dying patients, a Shanghai Daily investigation has found.

In the most recent case, Shanghai Emergency Medical Center officials are investigating claims that a first-aid doctor and an ambulance driver sold a resident's address after his mother died.

The son, surnamed Li, was out when he was told his 49-year-old mother died early last Tuesday after first-aid doctors failed to revive her. He rushed back to the apartment but was shocked to find that a man from a funeral company was already waiting there to see him.

The man offered Li a complete funeral service for 10,000 yuan (US$1,586). The address on the card turned out to be a flower shop.

"The man with the unlicensed funeral company came to our home to cheat my money minutes after my mother stopped breathing," Li told the Youth Daily newspaper. "How did they find my address and know about my mother's death?"

Li alerted the police and was stunned when police told him the man said he got the address and details about his mother's death from a worker at the medical center.

Guan Min, an official at the center told Shanghai Daily that the doctor and ambulance driver were under investigation.

It was not an isolated case. The Shanghai Daily investigation found that many funeral companies in the city, facing fierce competition, are hiring doctors, nurses and ambulance drivers to be their insiders.

Though these insiders run the risk of being fired for divulging information, the cash they receive can make it worthwhile.

When a Shanghai Daily reporter posed as an ambulance driver, he was told: "Every time you see some patient who cannot make it, tell me immediately. And if we successfully make a deal with the relatives, you will get 300 yuan."

The man surnamed Xiao, boss of Shanghai Yonghua Funeral Service Co, also said: "We can establish a long-term relationship if you prove to be able to provide exclusive information. You can get a 300 yuan bonus each month, that's the highest price in the industry."

When the reporter said he was worried about being fired, Xiao tried to reassure him by saying he had more than 10 doctors and nurses as his "insiders" in hospitals in Minhang District.

"Be smart. It'll be safe to earn the easy money if you just send text messages with the patients' addresses and don't make phone calls in public," he said.

Wang Hongjie, director of Shanghai Funeral and Interment Association, said they had received about 20 complaints so far this year about funeral company workers contacting residents when relatives died.

In a growing industry where over 90 legal funeral companies and 997 registered workers are competing to provide services for the 30,000-plus households who lose relatives each year, many firms are turning to paying insiders, Wang said.

"Doctors, nurses, ambulance drivers, and even management staff at hospitals are all targeted by the companies," said Wang, "The tricky part is, the insiders are extremely hard to find as evidence is always lacking."

Wang said the association would talk with local health authorities to work out ways to end the practice.

On Monday, the Ministry of Civil Affairs said it would curb excessively high funeral charges by regulating the industry.


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