Coronavirus impact: All-round delays are hitting Mumbai hard

Updated: May 27, 2020, 07:13 IST | Arita Sarkar | Mumbai

Citizens struggle to find ambulances, beds and in getting tested, exposing govt response

BMC health workers screen suspected patients near Safed Pul in Kurla. Pic/Sayyed Sameer Abedi
BMC health workers screen suspected patients near Safed Pul in Kurla. Pic/Sayyed Sameer Abedi

Even after days of efforts to standardise the treatment process of COVID-19 patients, people are unable to get help at the time of medical emergencies. While many face problems finding an ambulance or getting admission in hospitals, the families of those who die of the viral infection are made to wait for days for their bodies, exposing the gaps in the process.

Santacruz resident Varun's (name changed) tested positive for the viral infection earlier this month and his ordeal started with the death of his uncle on May 4. Apart from him, nine of his family members tested positive for COVID-19. He took his uncle to KEM Hospital after he complained of breathing difficulties and he died the day after he was admitted.

The following day, his mother, 56, started showing the same symptoms. "My mother was already being treated at a private nursing home for acidity problems and on May 8 a doctor there conducted an X Ray on her after she developed breathing difficulties. He said that she is a suspected COVID-19 patient and should be admitted to a hospital. I checked at least five private hospitals that day and all refused to admit her. They either said that there were no vacancies or asked for a test report," he said.

With the help of some friends, he finally managed to find a bed at Seven Hills Hospital on May 10. "I was so busy running around that I didn't realise I had fever. I also tested positive and was admitted along with my mother. Some facility should be available for patients in serious condition whether they have COVID-19 or not. Hospitals should compulsorily admit them for basic medical help at least," he said.

Joseph (name changed), 80, a resident of Waroda Road, didn't get the help he needed on time. His neighbour, Jim (name changed) said that on May 15, Joseph was having trouble breathing and the family doctor said that his oxygen levels were low. "Ambulances meant for ferrying COVID-19 patients said they would not be able to take him until he undergoes a test and the regular ones refused to take the risk. We tried several other ambulance services but no one came. They were asking for R6,000 to take him to Lilavati Hospital which is hardly five minutes away," added Jim.

Report after 2 days
Jim managed to get a private lab to come and collect a sample for testing. But they got the report after two days. He even tried calling the police but no help arrived. However, Joseph passed away on May 16.

Like Joseph, Abdul Rahim Surti, 54, showed similar symptoms and two ambulance services refused to transport him to the hospital. His relative, Waqar Ahmed Kadri, said that Surti was complaining of cough, fever, throat pain and breathlessness for the past two to three days. "He needed urgent medical help and oxygen supply. We desperately needed an ambulance but no one was agreeing to come. We finally decided to take him on our own," said Kadri.

Even after they managed to reach the hospital in Byculla, Kadri said that the staff asked for a COVID-19 test report. "How can someone get tested unless they are admitted? Facing a medical emergency nowadays is like signing a death warrant. After a lot of convincing, the hospital finally admitted him on May 15 but discharged him the very next day. He died at home on May 17," said Kadri. Surti's relatives are of the opinion that the hospital discharged him without proper treatment and till date, they don't even know whether he had COVID-19.

No respite after death, too
The ordeal for a suspected patient's family doesn't end even after the patient dies. The relatives of 64-year-old Raymond Kinni, a Worli resident, who died on May 9 at Bandra Bhabha Hospital had to wait for five days for his body. "The hospital authorities said they were waiting for the report before releasing the body. We kept checking with the hospital and they finally gave us the body on May 14 but not the report. So we still don't know if he was a COVID-19 patient," said Carlton Kinni, Raymond's brother.

As per the current protocols, civic hospitals don't wait for the report after a patient dies and all deceased suspected patients are supposed to be treated as COVID-19 patients and released in plastic bags. A Bhabha hospital spokesperson said, "Usually, it depends on the patient's family members. Sometimes they want to find out if the patient had tested positive and in that case we wait. However, we will look into the details of this case."

'No one can be turned away'
Speaking to mid-day, Dr Gautam Bhansali, member of the COVID task force and consultant physician with Bombay Hospital said that while shortage of beds in hospitals was a practical problem, no patient in need of medical help could be turned away. "Government and private hospitals have a triage area where suspected patients can be kept and their condition is stabilised while their test reports are awaited or until a bed is available. Many private hospitals now have separate wards for COVID-19, non-COVID-19 and suspected patients," he said.

Speaking about the live dashboard being set up by the BMC, he said, "The live dashboard will be functional within two to three days. If a patient is unable to find a bed, he/she can call the disaster management helpline. The team will contact the nodal officer at the hospital to check the status of beds or will guide the patient to the closest hospital with a vacancy. Our aim is to ensure that every patient gets proper medical attention when they need it," he said.

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