Top Mumbai hospital refuses to discharge patient unable to pay Rs 1.60L bill

While it is a violation of rights to detain any patient, Hinduja Hospital claims physically handicapped waiter did not submit proper documents when he got admitted

Shekhar Poojari is 80% handicapped from below his waist
Shekhar Poojari is 80% handicapped from below his waist

A common adage is 'health is wealth'. But, in the case of Shekhar Poojari, 46, a physically handicapped waiter, it may literally translate, as after a medical scare that required him to be admitted to Hinduja Hospital, he is now healthy, but is allegedly not being allowed to leave by authorities because he can't afford to pay the bill - a whopping Rs 1.60 lakh. This, despite him submitting all documents that proves he qualifies for benefits accorded to the 'weaker section' patients under the Charity Commission.

Poojari’s disability certificate
Poojari's disability certificate

On June 17, Poojari was on duty at his Prabhadevi workplace when he complained of high sugar and was rushed to the hospital by his colleagues. At the time, his colleagues and boss at the hotel, Samuel Karkada, managed to arrange for Rs 38,000 to get him admitted. But, on July 3, when he was about to be discharged, he was told his bill had climbed to Rs 1.60 lakh that would have be cleared before he was released. Five days later – the cost of which will also be added to his already-high bill – he is still fighting authorities to come to an agreement as they have refused to accept his financial documents that prove he belongs to the 'weaker section' patient category.

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Though with his income of Rs 96K a year, Poojari is not BPL anymore, he holds an orange ration card that signifies BPL status he, however, does qualify as a ‘weaker section’ patient
Though with his income of Rs 96K a year, Poojari is not BPL anymore, he holds an orange ration card that signifies BPL status he, however, does qualify as a 'weaker section' patient

Have no savings
"I tried to submit my electricity bill, my orange BPL ration card [he is not BPL anymore], and salary documents signed by my boss, but they didn't accept them. I don't have so much money to give. I have a wife and two children in Mangalore whom I have to send money from my limited income of Rs 8,000 per month. It has now been five days that I am forced to stay in the hospital, and this is only adding to my bill," rued Poojari.

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Talking to mid-day, his wife Usha Kiran, who works as a domestic maid in Mangalore, said, "I am really scared for my husband. We are very poor, we don't even have savings of Rs 1 lakh; how will we pay such an amount? We already lost most of our money when he had the accident that handicapped him 13 years ago."

Boss steps in
Karkada, who owns the restaurant where Poojari works, said, "I went to the hospital to talk to the officer who handles such cases, but the lady refused to take the documents, stating patients keep making such excuses to claim concessions. Is it not visible that he is physically handicapped? And his economic condition is clear from his salary slip that I tried to submit. How can anyone be so insensitive?"

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Now, the employees of the restaurant are trying to collect Rs 50,000 to pay off a part of the bill. "We even said that we would pay another Rs 50,000 if they can provide the concession as per the Charity Commission, but they just refused. They didn't even guide us if there were any documents needed," he added.

Hospital says
When contacted, the hospital spokesperson said, "We provide charitable treatment to the poor and needy patients in line with the guidelines of the HC. In this particular case, neither the patient nor his relative had approached our PRD during admission. The patient's employer approached us about 8 to 10 days back, only with the patient's salary letter. He was then explained the hospital's policy for providing charitable treatment and was advised to submit the other required documents also. The relevant documents have not been submitted by the patient or his employer till date, nor have they approached our PRD department thereafter for any clarifications."

Experts weigh in
According to medical experts, holding a patient in a hospital against his wish amounts to violation of human rights. Ravi Duggal from People's Health Movement and country coordinator of International Budget Partnership said, "For whatever reason, no hospital can hold back a patient without his wish for failure to pay the bill. For such patients, the hospitals that come under the umbrella of Charity Commission need to provide considerable concession."

Charity Commission rules dictate
Trust-run hospitals should provide 50 per cent concession to patients who fall in the category of 'weaker section' patients with annual income less than Rs 1 lakh. "In case of weaker section patients, the charitable hospitals shall provide medical examination and treatment at concessional rates," states clause 10 of the Charity Commission.

50%
Concession on his bill that he qualifies for under the commission

Rs 8k
Poojari's monthly salary, which is less than a lakh a year

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