Patients and staff at the Upper East Regional Hospital are singing the praises of Dr Francis Ibrahim-Betonsi, a general practitioner who was wrongfully dismissed for six years from the Ghana Health Service (GHS) and reinstated recently, for discharging his duties “like a house on fire”.
The say-it-as-it-is skilled doctor had openly criticised some alleged wrongdoing at a public hospital in the Western region and was accused of “a possible delusional disorder” for his serial criticisms of that referral facility.
Subsequently, some offended superiors subjected him to several psychiatric examinations to “frustrate” him. But the assessments eventually cleared him as normal. He was dismissed in 2012 from the service after he declined to go for yet another psychiatric test imposed on him by the same superiors.
Displaced for over a half-decade, he was virtually feasting on scraps to survive until he and Starr News crossed paths in the Upper East region in 2017. For twelve months, Starr News mounted pressure with several reports on the Medical and Dental Council (MDC), the Ghana Medical Association (GMA) and the GHS for his reinstatement, with the first story published on Tuesday October 31, 2017.
On Wednesday October 31, 2018, he was reinstated, with a letter dispatched from the Director General of the GHS, Dr Anthony Nsiah-Asare, directing the Upper East Regional Director of Health, Dr Winfred Ofosu, to “deploy him appropriately” and “with immediate effect”.
Some feedback gathered by Starr News from patients and a number of hospital staff five months after his reinstatement and resumption of duty at the Upper East Regional Hospital revealed an uncommon hero Dr Ibrahim-Betonsi had so soon become to so many.
“He’s one in a million in that he’s a selfless man. Whether he’s on duty or not, if he sees that there is a need for him to intervene, he does it. There was a time I brought my father here. There was no doctor around. He wasn’t even on duty.
“But I just spoke to an uncle of mine who called him on phone. He had no means. He trekked from where he was lodging, came to the hospital, treated my father and now my father is fine. He’s one in a million. He’s a God-sent. He’s the best,” said Mary Akolgo.
A well-read workhorse, Dr Ibrahim-Betonsi reports to work on time and, out of passion for patients at the overstretched hospital, scarcely breaks from his consulting room for lunch. He works not only on weekdays and weekends but also on holidays. He also voluntarily spends an extra three hours after his official closing time, attending to more patients at the facility.
“He is unique. The sorts of questions he asks, the ample time he spends on every patient and the effective treatments he comes out with make him a rare kind of doctor,” a patient, Ellen Naambare, told Starr News moments after a senior staff at the hospital, Perpetual Dakuri, also had called in on the gifted doctor in his consulting room to commend him for the job done so far at the hospital.
The hospital’s Clinical Coordinator, Dr Samuel Aborah, also spoke well about the reinstated doctor in an interview with Starr News, saying: “He’s assigned to the Internal Medicine Department to see medical cases and other cases. He’s doing well as it’s expected of him as a doctor. He comes to work regularly and punctually.”
From Grieving to Giving
Dr Ibrahim-Betonsi endured a protracted torture which, according to observers, could have led to his death during the 6-years-long severe hardship but for his mental stamina and a ‘stubborn’ hope that the outcome of his hard times would be positive someday no matter how long.
A report by former Chief Psychiatrist, Professor Joseph Bediako Asare, and Clinical Psychologist, Professor Araba Sefa-Dedeh, cleared the young doctor of the mental disorder accusation levelled against him but indicated that his person had been affected in a way as a result of the abuse and the cruelty he suffered and the wrongful dismissal meted out to him.
Before his reinstatement, a distressed Dr Ibrahim-Betonsi himself once said, “My shoes are so bad that when I walk my feet hurt me a lot.”
And as his depression grew worse, he groaned: “I’m dying. They are killing me softly. I have been reduced to an animal with a fur and a tail. They have ganged up against me and their whole intention is to destroy me, or possibly eliminate me from the surface of the earth. If I die today, people will not know the truth.”
Two months to his reinstatement, he lodged as a lone squatter in a rat-infested mud room where he was taken ill with complicated malaria. He got well again and relocated to stay with a close friend occupying a rented single-room in the Upper East regional capital, Bolgatanga.
When his reinstatement letter came, he wept for the years lost in his life but celebrated the victory won in his strife. He resumed duty in no time after he was posted to the Upper East Regional Hospital. And whilst waiting to receive his first salary since 2012, he promised to make some donations to deprived orphans and poor persons with disabilities in the region.
Dr Ibrahim-Betonsi now lives in a well-furnished three-bedroom flat allocated to him by the Upper East Regional Hospital’s management. His little daughter, Sheila, now can be in the classroom throughout the term without worries of being thrown out as done in the past for nonpayment of school fees.
His long-serving old phone, which has almost the same weight as the 1-litre pack of Don Simon Multifruta and which does not need any password because its keypad is so faded only the owner can locate the keys on it, also has been replaced with a smartphone. He is now on Facebook and WhatsApp for the first time in his entire life through that smartphone. Somebody suggested he take the ‘Don-Simon’ phone to a museum. He declined, smiling whilst saying he preferred to keep it at home “as part of my memorabilia”.
Meanwhile, an anti-corruption and pro-justice group is set to mount pressure on the GHS to pay the compensation due him for the 6-years-long wrongful dismissal and thorough torture.