Disguised as a nurse, a desperate Russian enters the COVID ward to comfort his dying grandmother

TOMSK, Russia — When Sergei Samborsky learned from a patient at the Infectious Diseases Hospital in this Siberian city that his 84-year-old grandmother, an Alzheimer’s patient being treated in the isolation ward for COVID-19, was not fed or cared for properly, he became desperate.

He begged hospital workers to let him take care of her himself, but they refused to admit him to the hospital’s restricted “red zone.”

So he did the only thing he could think of to help the woman who had raised him since childhood: he dressed in the protective gear of a hospital worker and went to see his granddaughter. -mother, Yulia Yemelyashina.

Under his gown, he smuggled adult diapers, special pressure ulcer dressings, and nutrition that could be given intravenously. He entered the closed area with surprising ease – “There was no security”, he told RFERL – but what he found there shocked him.

“I walked into the ward and asked where that particular patient was,” he recalls. “And, telling them I was a therapist on another ward, I walked in. My grandmother was lying in a puddle of urine and feces. There was vomit in her mouth and her oxygen mask was on his forehead.”

Later, Samborsky posted a shocking video of the incident on social media, showing unconscious Yemelyashina covered in bruises and scabs on a urine-soaked mattress.

Neither the hospital nor the regional health department has commented on the matter.

On his third trip to the Red Zone, a doctor began questioning him closely, and he was revealed and kicked out. He felt he had only one plan of action left.

“I knew immediately that I had to go to Moscow if I wanted to save my grandmother,” he said. “It made no sense to go to the prosecutors in Tomsk.”

Sergei Samborsky

The director of the hospital for infectious diseases No. 2 (MSCh-2) in Tomsk, Aleksandr Kholopov, is a prominent local personality, the former head of the regional health department.

“They all know Kholopov and would cover him again,” Samborsky said. “My only hope was the federal prosecutors. I even wanted to reach the president. I reported violations in the work of the hospital to the investigating committee.”

In July 2020, Kholopov was fired as head of the regional health department amid a scandal following the publication of photographs from a morgue in Tomsk which reporters said showed body bags containing unknown victims. of COVID-19 from MSCh-2. In his ad of Kholopov’s dismissal, Tomsk Oblast Governor Sergei Zhvachkin said the doctor was responsible for the “organizational mess in such an important institution.”

However, in March Zhvachkin appeared to back down and appointed Kholopov as head of MSCh-2.

“This institute must be led by a person with considerable experience in practical health care, capable of assuming responsibility and enjoying the respect of his colleagues,” the governor said. “I think [Kholopov] meets these criteria.

In September, less than a month before Samborsky’s experiment, MSCh-2 doctors published an open letter to Zhvachkin accusing Kholopov of mismanagement of the hospital and calling for his dismissal.

Doctors said Kholopov made severe staffing cuts and other management decisions that hurt the quality of care at the hospital.

“Now Kholopov is completely occupied with the election campaign,” the doctors wrote, referring to the September parliamentary, regional and local elections, “promoting his own candidacy and engaging in self-promotion while delegating everything to his deputies “.

Samborsky’s experience at MSCh-2 mirrored the doctors’ claims.

“Kholopov organized the hospital so that there was simply no one to work,” he told RFE/RL. “There are no nappies, no proper linens, no nurses to keep track of medications. There’s not even anyone to feed the patients.”

During the ‘conversation’ they implied that the video I took at the hospital that caused such public outcry was ‘edited’ to ‘discredit the Ministry of Health’.

“My grandmother was on a liquid diet,” he added. “The first day I went to see her she ate a quarter of her norm. Two days later she was moved to another ward where she didn’t eat at all because they didn’t feed her intravenously but liquid by spoon, which she couldn’t take, it’s even possible that she just starved to death after they “unmasked” me and kicked me out.

Samborsky returned to Tomsk from Moscow on October 29 but was unable to visit his grandmother. Instead, hospital administrators asked her to take her relative and sign a denial of care statement, even though she was still being treated for pneumonia and had a high fever. Samborsky refused.

The next day, Yemelyashina’s condition deteriorated. She was taken to intensive care and put on a ventilator. She died later that day of “coronavirus infection, pneumonia, [and] acute heart and lung failure,” according to the hospital report.

For Samborsky, however, the trouble was just beginning.

After returning to Tomsk, it was announced that federal prosecutors had opened an investigation into the hospital management on suspicion of “professional negligence resulting in death”. On Sunday, October 31 at 6 p.m., Samborsky was summoned to the Tomsk branch of the Investigative Committee to repeat his story as a witness.

“I was prepared for this,” he said, adding that he had taken a lawyer with him as he expected hostility from local prosecutors. “Ultimately, it prevented many attempts to violate my rights.”

Samborsky said prosecutors asked the same questions over and over again and the session lasted more than three hours.

“During the ‘conversation,’ they implied that the video I took at the hospital that caused such public outcry was ‘edited’ to ‘discredit the Ministry of Health,'” a he declared.

Around the same time, Samborsky said, he learned that “some kind of reporters” had visited his hometown and were asking locals about him.

“From their questions, you could tell they wanted to find out something bad about me,” he said, adding that some local media accused him of making a “huge fuss” about the disease and the death of his grandmother.

Nevertheless, Samborsky said he intended to continue his efforts to have criminal charges brought against Kholopov and the treating doctor in his grandmother’s case.

“All I was trying to do was save someone’s life,” he said. “She raised me instead of my mother. What’s the point of ‘fussing’?”

“I lost my job as a welder when my video caused a scandal,” he added. “They called my boss and threatened him if he didn’t fire me. Now I bury my grandmother at my own expense. In the end, I couldn’t save her.”

Written by RFE/RL senior correspondent Robert Coalson, based on reporting from Tomsk by correspondent Sania Yusupova of RFE/RL’s Russian service’s Siberia.Realities desk. Current Time television contributed to this report.