Doctor’s murder highlights home care challenges

Suzuki Junichi was a familiar face throughout his community in Saitama Prefecture, north of Tokyo. For years, the 44-year-old doctor went above and beyond the call of duty to visit homebound patients, providing care they otherwise couldn’t get. But last month his life was cut short by a murder that raised questions about the dangers facing visiting medical workers.

On January 27, Suzuki and a group of other workers linked to his Saitama clinic went to the home of Watanabe Hiroshi, whose 92-year-old mother had died the day before.

Investigative sources say Watanabe asked Suzuki to give his dead mother a heart massage, and when Suzuki said it was too late to revive her, Watanabe pulled out a shotgun and shot him. above. He also allegedly shot a physiotherapist who was part of the support group.

Suspect Watanabe Hiroshi was taken into custody after a lengthy confrontation with police.

The sources say that at this point the therapist and the other members of the group fled and Watanabe locked himself in the house with the doctor. Eleven hours later, the police burst in and arrested Watanabe. Suzuki died of his injuries. The physiotherapist was seriously injured but survived.

House a hostage was held
The incident happened at night in a residential area. Police have called on people living near the house to move to nearby shelters for their safety.

Watanabe reportedly told investigators that after his mother’s death he lost all hope. He reportedly confessed to wanting to kill the doctor and other staff, then commit suicide.

A troubled past

The unemployed suspect had lived with his mother and cared for her largely on his own. He would have been very demanding on the health care she received.

Suzuki discovered this after he started making house calls a few years ago. Sources say Watanabe would berate the doctor for the quality of his treatment and regularly file complaints with a local doctors’ association. Staff at a nursing organization who also helped Watanabe with his mother said many of their staff felt unsafe around him, so they eventually stopped sending them.

A pillar of the community

Suzuki was an integral part of the local healthcare community. He started doing house calls about 10 years ago. More recently, with the spread of the coronavirus pandemic across the country, he has expanded his workload. He often worked late into the night, going from house to house to see patients.

Doctor Suzuki Junichi
NHK interviewed Suzuki last year about his work with coronavirus patients.

Sekiya Noriyasu, another Saitama doctor who does house calls, says Suzuki had about 300 patients and was working day and night to meet their needs. “We have a serious shortage of doctors in the prefecture,” he says. “It’s very difficult to manage.”

Suzuki visiting a patient room
Suzuki told NHK he was only motivated by a desire to help people.

Vulnerability of home care

Sekiya says violence from struggling patients or their family members is an ever-present risk. “Compared to large hospitals, it is difficult for local clinics to hire people who can help keep us safe,” he says.

In a 2018 survey by the National Association for Visiting Nurse Service, nearly half of nurses who responded said they had been physically assaulted by people using the service or family members. About the same percentage said they had been mentally abused, and the same percentage said they had been sexually harassed. Another survey of nursing home operators found that almost all want to put in place better safety measures for their staff, but the majority don’t know what steps to take to achieve this.

Professor Miki Akiko of Kansai Medical University says that in some circumstances overseas, security guards and police accompany medical workers on their rounds. “Creating a safer system will also help improve the quality of treatment and care for users,” she says. “There’s a limit to what healthcare providers can do on their own, so we need to get the government involved.”