The waiting time of a young Bulgarian mother in the hospital was filmed. And then she died.

SOFIA – Healthcare in Bulgaria, which is already facing a crisis over the COVID-19 pandemic amid record high infections and record low vaccination rates in the EU, faces further testing after a sick woman in a wheelchair was denied admission to a hospital in the north-west of the country, everything was caught on video, with her final moments captured and uploaded to social media.

People have been protesting outside the hospital in Vratsa, some 100 kilometers north of the capital Sofia, while calls for the dismissal of Health Minister Asena Serbezova, who, along with local prosecutors, has ordered an investigation.

The woman was said to have been suffering from breathing problems, but it was unclear if she might have been infected with the coronavirus.

Struggling to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, Bulgaria has some of the highest mortality rates and lowest vaccination rates in the European Union. With almost 7 million inhabitants, Bulgaria has registered almost 33,500 deaths related to COVID-19. by data tabulated by Johns Hopkins University, with less than 29 percent of the population vaccinated.

Among those loudest calling for Serbezova’s sacking is the far-right Revival party, whose leader Kostadin Kostadinov has expressed doubts about the lethality of COVID-19 and opposed lockdown measures, a message amplified by supporters of his party and others on social media.

The 44-year-old woman from the nearby village of Pudria was driven to the Hristo Botev hospital in Vratsa on February 1 by her boyfriend, who got behind the wheel after an ambulance failed to show up for almost an hour after he called 911 had hotline.

Hristo Botev Hospital in Vratsa. The nurse at the center of the scandal, Victoria Hristova, said she was just following hospital rules.

In the video, which circulated on social media but has since been deleted, the woman can be seen seated in a wheelchair with a minor identified as her child standing next to her at the emergency room reception.

In the video, the woman’s boyfriend appears to be arguing with a nurse, who is asked if the woman is drunk before demanding a health ID number and being given a coronavirus test.

The man tells her it would be better to prepare a death certificate before leaving, apparently to look for the requested card.

After a 40-minute wait at reception and without medical attention, the woman died, collapsing in her wheelchair with her child standing beside her.

According to relatives of the deceased, her condition had deteriorated dramatically hours earlier when she complained of difficulty breathing, a symptom commonly associated with COVID-19.

“I was impressed by the horrible behavior at the front desk. They should have picked her up and called a doctor,” said Ivan Iliev, who witnessed the incident and was the one who filmed the video and later uploaded it to Facebook before it was later taken down, according to Bulgarian media.

The nurse at the center of the scandal, Victoria Hristova, said on February 2 that she was only following hospital rules and seemed to deflect blame as the family waited too long before taking the woman to the hospital.

“What I saw in the video is disgusting. I will take the toughest measures,” said Petar Keremedchiev, the head of the Vratsa hospital. (file photo)

Petar Keremedchiev, the head of the Vratsa hospital, announced Hristova’s dismissal on February 2, saying that managing healthcare should always take precedence over bureaucratic procedures.

“What I saw in the video is disgusting. I will take the toughest measures,” Keremedchiev said was quoted by Bulgarian media as I said.

Later, on February 2, a crowd appeared outside the emergency room to protest the hospital’s handling of the matter.

Meanwhile, Health Minister Serbezova announced on February 2 that the country’s medical regulator would investigate the actions of the hospital and its medical staff.

In a statement, Serbezova said it was “unacceptable that bureaucratic demands take away the chance to live in a situation where every second is precious”.

Local prosecutors opened their own investigation and on February 2 questioned family members of the deceased woman.

Kostadin Kostadinov, leader of the far-right Revival party, has expressed doubts about the lethality of COVID-19 and opposed lockdown measures.

Kostadin Kostadinov, leader of the far-right Revival party, has expressed doubts about the lethality of COVID-19 and opposed lockdown measures.

In the Bulgarian parliament, Kostadinov, whose Revival party won 13 seats in the November 2021 parliamentary elections in the 240-member National Assembly, called for Serbezova’s resignation before criticizing the state of the country’s healthcare system.

“To see a woman die before her child is inhuman, something ugly,” he said.

“Bulgaria ranks first in mortality due to the degenerate healthcare system that is killing the Bulgarian people,” Kostadinov added, not realizing that many of these recent deaths have been linked to COVID-19, which he and his party dismissed to have.

Responding to Revival’s calls for Serbezova to step down, Prime Minister Kiril Petkov said she “reacted appropriately,” adding, “Such cases must be avoided.”

At the same parliamentary session on February 2, Georgi Mihailov of the Bulgarian Socialist Party said such political swagger would do nothing to improve Bulgaria’s healthcare system, admonishing Kostadinov for turning a “human tragedy” into a political problem.

Based on reports from the Bulgarian service of RFE/RL and written in Prague by Tony Wesolowsky

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