The former head of the hospital in Tetovo, Florin Besimi, and the official in charge of the technical side of the hospital, Artan Etemi, were found guilty on Monday of endangering public safety for not acquiring fire extinguishers for the modular COVID-19 hospital ward that was hit by a deadly fire in 2021.
In a first-instance verdict, the Tetovo Basic Court gave them both one-and-a-half-year suspended jail sentences. They will not go to prison if they do not commit another crime in the next three years.
To cheers from the crowd had gathered to call for his acquittal, doctor Boban Vuchevski was cleared of “disobeying health regulations during a pandemic” by allowing relatives of hospitalised patients to visit them.
All three had pleaded not guilty. The two convicted men will now be able to appeal.
Fourteen people were killed and a dozen others injured when a fire ripped through the COVID-19 modular hospital on September 8, 2021.
The tragedy raised questions about the safety of the modular hospitals that were built shortly after the coronavirus pandemic struck.
The court also found the Tetovo hospital as a legal entity guilty of endangering public safety and disregarding health protocols.
It was ordered to pay one million denars (some 16,000 euros) in compensation. For additional compensation, the relatives of the victims were told to take private legal action.
Amid questions asked about responsibility, but also about the safety of the materials used at the hospitals and their maintenance standards, the Prosecutor’s Office published a report in October 2021 that was prepared by the Department for Criminal Investigations.
The report determined that the fire was caused by an electrical short circuit in a faulty electrical extension cord that had been used in the hospital to connect a defibrillator machine.
According to the report, the cable, which at the time had been also charging a mobile phone and another device, overheated and caused the fire.
The hospital was built by private companies with funds from the World Bank. But the prosecution only filed charges against the managers, the doctor and the hospital itself.
During the trial, the court heard testimonies from patients and relatives of patients, who all said that the door to the modular hospital was usually left unlocked and that they and others were usually able to go in and visit relatives, despite sometimes being warned by the staff not to do so as it was against the regulations.
The parents of a 21-year-old COVID-19 patient, whose bed was located near the place where the fire started, testified that they tried initially to extinguish it with a blanket, but that it spread quickly and they barely managed to escape alive.
They told the court that they did not get a permit to visit their daughter, but that they had to be there all the time because she suffered from cerebral palsy.
The father said that he had noticed fire extinguishers in the hospital one day before the fire, but could not recall whether he had seen one on the day of the catastrophe.
Two nurses who were on shift on the day of the fire and three forensic experts confirmed in court what was written in the forensic report about the cause of the fire.
Source: Balkan Insight