Mumbai: Isolated spots, no background checks of staffers. It's still 1973 at KEM

Nurses and resident medical students working in the civic-run hospital told mid-day they felt unsafe because there are few security personnel inside departments and neither are employees vetted for any past criminal records

Many an eye was moist as the nurses at King Edward Memorial (KEM) Hospital in Parel bid goodbye to their friend and colleague, Aruna Shanbaug, on Monday. Her death once again brought to the fore, the sorry state of measures the hospital authorities have taken to ensure safety of their women employees and resident doctors.

Photos: Aruna Shanbaug's final journey

Ward number 4 at KEM Hospital. Aruna Shanbaug was admitted here for nearly 42 years. Pic/Datta Kumbhar
Ward number 4 at KEM Hospital. Aruna Shanbaug was admitted here for nearly 42 years. Pic/Datta Kumbhar

After Shanbaug was sodomised on November 27, 1973 by ward boy Sohanlal Bhartha Walmiki, who left her in a vegetative state, the department she worked in was shifted immediately. Shanbaug, a staff nurse, was in charge of one of the departments. Yet, nurses say there are still some areas in the hospital that remain isolated, and, therefore, are dangerous.

Also Read: KEM's ward no. 4 may bear Aruna Shanbaug's name

Several staff nurses expressed their concerns to mid-day about security of women employees on the hospital’s premises. “I don’t think much has changed since the incident in 1973. There are security guards at the gates, but not enough (security) personnel in all the departments. Although the hospital is busy all day, it becomes isolated at night.

They (management) should deploy female security guards in all departments,” said Shobha Derse, a senior staff nurse. Derse has been with the hospital for 33 years and also looked after Shanbaug. Even Usha Kulkarni (name changed), who was Shanbaug’s junior in KEM, felt nothing had changed in the hospital when she had retired a few years ago.

‘We have to trust them’
When mid-day asked Derse if the hospital authorities conducted a background check of criminal records of staffers before hiring them, she replied in the negative and said it doesn’t seem likely that this vital screening will be done in future, too. “Yahan sab bharose pe chalta hai (everything runs on trust here).

Also Read: Nursing school in Thane to be named after Aruna Shanbaug

We have to trust our staff members; there is no other choice,” said another nurse, who refused to be identified. Ranjana Athawle, secretary of the Nurses Welfare Union, also underscored the need for security. “There needs to be better communication between the staff members and the management.

They need to understand that women on night duty must be provided with security. And I agree that a background check of staffers needs to be done,” she told mid-day. It’s not just the staff members who are unhappy with the situation. Students, too, are of the same opinion.

After a ward boy molested a resident doctor in December last year (‘KEM ward boy held for molesting doctor in lift’, December 12, 2014), resident doctors and interns are also demanding better security for women. “They say that they have roped in a private security company, but I have never seen them patrolling the hospital premises.

They are stationed in select areas,” said Ashwini Chanda, a second-year MBBS student at the Seth Gordhandas Sunderdas Medical College, which is attached to the hospital. Aditi Bhagat, another student, also felt that women’s safety on the hospital premises was a cause for concern and demanded that better measures be taken.

The other side
When asked about the issue, Dr Avinash Supe, dean, KEM Hospital, replied in a one-line message, “(The) security is being increased.”

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