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3 more hospital chiefs detained

Three more central government-run hospital chiefs were taken into custody in a snowballing corruption scandal yesterday, as the ministerial Department of Health (DOH) vowed to reform its personnel and procurement management.

Shaw Kuo-ning (邵國寧), Chen Wen-chung (陳文鍾) and Huang Lung-teh (黃龍德), the superintendents of the DOH-run hospitals in Taichung, Hsinchu and Chiayi, respectively, were detained after an overnight questioning, the Taoyuan District Prosecutor Office said.

A fourth suspect, Lee Ming-chieh (李明杰), who heads the DOH-run hospital in Penghu, was released on a NT$200,000 bond.

An executive, surnamed Lai, from a private medical supplier was also taken into custody.

The arrests were the second wave of actions by prosecutors investigating alleged irregularities in DOH-run hospitals' procurement of medical equipment.

Prosecutors last month arrested Huang Kun-chang, head of the DOH's Hospital Administration Commission, and Lee Yuan-fang, head of the DOH-run hospital in Keelung.

Prosecutors launched the latest actions after finding irregular transactions in the procurement of ultrasound and biochemical equipment between 2009 and this year by the Taichung hospital and some others, according to the Central News agency.

Deputy health minister Chiang Hung-che said there have been about 300 cases of procurement by DOH-run hospitals since November 2008, and each of them will be scrutinized to see whether there are irregularities.

The irregularities are believed to have stemmed from a loophole created in October 2008 when the Hospital Administration Commission made a set of guidelines for outsourced medical services, the CNA said.

The deputy health minister also said the irregularities may have been enabled by a flaw in personnel management of the DOH-run hospitals.

The leadership of DOH-run hospitals may change regularly, but the candidates have always come from the same pool of superintendents, Chiang said.

The same group of superintendents has long controlled the DOH-run hospitals, as well as their procurement, which may be a crucial factor behind these alleged scams, he added.

The DOH is already studying ways to plug the loophole. It has invited medical management scholars and experts to design a third-party monitoring system.

The DOH will conduct a thorough examination of the “health” of its hospitals, and revise the selection process of their superintendents.

It will also seek to reform the procurement process and limit hospital officials' authority over purchases.

One of the superintendents detained yesterday, Shaw Kuo-ning, is Taichung Mayor Jason Hu's brother-in-law.

Hu said he was surprised by Shaw's arrest, but that he hopes Shaw is innocent.

Asked if his wife, Shirley, knew about her brother's arrest, Hu declined to comment.

Liao Chiang-hsien, deputy chief of the Taoyuan District Prosecutors Office, said his office sought court permission to detain the hospital superintendents and businessman to prevent them from tampering with or destroying evidence.

The latest arrests followed the raids on 17 locations in six cities and counties conducted by eight prosecutors and more than 100 investigators on Friday.

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