Help for elderly couple stranded in Turkey
August 27, 2013
WASHINGTON, D.C. - At the prodding of U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, the cruise line that dropped off an elderly Florida couple in Turkey today agreed to cover all out-of-pocket medical expenses the couple incurs as a result of an injury the husband sustained while on a trip.
That word came in an email message from the cruise line’s VP and Global Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Arthur L. Diskin, sent to the couple who shared it with Nelson’s office. Diskin wrote that Royal Caribbean would “pay any medical bills not covered by insurance so that you do not incur any related out of pocket expenses.” He also told the couple that the cruise line’s “focus continues to be on Mr. Melkonian’s and your well-being; arranging your travel home; helping you plan for follow-up care; and easing your logistical and financial concerns.”
Jill and Dodge Melkonian, from Clearwater, Florida, were on board a Royal Caribbean cruise ship off the coast of Turkey when Mr. Melkonian fell and broke his hip. The couple was taken off the ship and dropped off at a local hospital in Turkey to be treated. Stranded in a foreign hospital that they insist was in poor condition with no one who spoke English, the couple became desperate for help.
Nelson got involved when the couple reached out to his office. The senator’s staff contacted the U.S. Embassy in Turkey and the couple was moved to an English-speaking hospital where they got the treatment they needed.
“Great news," Nelson said today.
Asked previously by CBS This Morning what the cruise line should do about the situation, Nelson said: “What we've communicated to the cruise line is that: We expect you to make them financially whole.”
Here’s a background article and a copy of the email from the cruise line:
Royal Caribbean in hot water over couple's cruise medical ordeal
By CBS News
Published: August 23, 2013
(CBS News) Royal Caribbean is facing a potential black eye over a situation in which two elderly travelers from Florida say they were left stranded in Turkey. Their journey has attracted the attention of everyone from the American embassy to a U.S. senator.
Just last April, a fire broke out on the cruise ship Jill and Dodge Melkonian were traveling on. As a consolation, Royal Caribbean offered them a full refund and a free trip, which they took earlier this week, but they never imagined bad luck would strike twice.
As veteran travelers, the Melkonians have visited nearly 200 countries and been on more than 30 cruises. But their latest trip aboard Royal Caribbean's Azamara Journey ended before it ever really began. On their first night, Dodge Melkonian fell and broke his hip. Jill Melkonian recalled, "I had just gotten to sleep, and I heard him scream and my husband takes a lot of pain -- he doesn't even use a needle for dental work -- so I knew he was in trouble."
Dodge Melkonian was immediately treated onboard, but needed more medical attention. Having purchased traveler's insurance through Royal Caribbean, the couple was dropped off in Bartin, a small town on the coast of Turkey, and taken to a local hospital. But Jill Melkonian insists the conditions there were poor and no one spoke English. She said, "I wasn't even able to explain in the hospital that he needed something for his pain.
In desperation, she reached out to her travel agency. Tammy Levent, owner of the company Elite Travel, said of the situation, "Nobody was there physically with them from Royal Caribbean. They basically left them, and that was it."
The agency contacted local tour guide Okan Kutlu who came to the couple's rescue, donating his own blood, and arranging for Dodge Melkonian to be transferred six hours away to a larger hospital in Istanbul.
Levent said, "There's got to be some accountability, some kind of responsibility to your guests."
Royal Caribbean would not grant our request for an interview, but in a statement said, "We helped arrange transportation via ambulance to the closest area hospital. Once ashore, we worked closely with the travel insurance provider, as they have the expertise to deal with local authorities and medical facilities. ... One of our care team specialists is still in contact with them today."
But Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., says that's not enough. "What we've communicated to the cruise line is that we expect you to make them financially whole," he said. "It is not right to treat an elderly couple like this."
Dodge Melkonian could be hospitalized for at least another week. Still, Jill Melkonian says the ordeal won't keep the couple from their next cruise. She said, "I suppose I will want to make sure that whatever insurance we have will cover anything in the future. We never hoped for something to go wrong, but this has been a real challenge, and a bit frustrating for us."
Overnight, the Melkonians' travel agent told us that Royal Caribbean is sending a representative to speak to the couple today. The cruise liner maintains that the health and safety of all its guests is always top priority.
Email Message from Royal Caribbean
From: Dr. Arthur Diskin
To: Jill Melkonian
Dear Mrs. Melkonian:
As the person who oversees our Medical Department, please let me begin by telling you how sorry I am that your husband was injured during your cruise on Journey. I understand this has been a very difficult time both physically and emotionally for you and Mr. Melkonian and that our customarily strong support was not up to the standard you deserve. Although medical situations produce anxiety and stress, especially when they occur away from home, I regret that we weren’t more successful in minimizing these inherent difficulties for you and Mr. Melkonian.
Our focus continues to be on Mr. Melkonian’s and your wellbeing; arranging your travel home; helping you plan for follow-up care; and easing your logistical and financial concerns. Ms. Marie Campbell, our CareTeam Specialist, told me you’re concerned about the payment of your medical costs.
If you desire, we will help you submit Mr. Melkonian's medical bills to your insurance company(s). We will also pay any medical bills not covered by insurance so that you do not incur any related out of pocket expenses. I hope this will put your mind at ease and help you focus on your husband’s recovery.
Should you have any other concerns, please let Ms. Campbell or me know right away. In the meantime, please let Mr. Melkonian know that I wish him a speedy and complete recovery.
Dr. Arthur Diskin