COVID-19: Focus on Mumbai piles on the pain for sister cities

Updated: 25 September, 2020 07:30 IST | Prajakta Kasale, Arita Sarkar | Mumbai

Patients from underdeveloped MMR struggle for healthcare as BMC boss remains firm that city comes first when it comes to beds

BMC's Jumbo COVID Care Centre at NESCO Exhibition Centre in Goregaon. Private hospitals have been told to direct MMR patients to jumbo centres. File pic
BMC's Jumbo COVID Care Centre at NESCO Exhibition Centre in Goregaon. Private hospitals have been told to direct MMR patients to jumbo centres. File pic

The civic chief’s preference for city’s COVID-19 patients being treated over those from neighbouring cities in private hospitals has increased difficulties for serious patients from the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR). The cities in MMR are interdependent for infrastructure. With health services being below par in the rest of MMR, citizens come to Mumbai hospitals.

Municipal Commissioner Iqbal Singh Chahal, in a message to private hospitals in early September, had asked them to prioritise city patients and refer those from MMR to jumbo facilities as cases started rising. Dr. Deepak Baid, president, Association of Medical Consultants, confirmed the move.

"While there wasn’t any circular, the word used was ‘preference’. But there is already a shortage of beds and private hospitals didn’t want to go against the corporation so they started saying that there are no beds available," said another doctor on condition of anonymity.

BMC chief Iqbal Singh Chahal.
BMC chief Iqbal Singh Chahal

'Money not an issue'

When Mumbra resident Shamshad Mohammed Khan, 54, developed a cough and fever around 10 days ago, his family rushed him to a hospital in Thane. "Three days after he was admitted, he tested positive for COVID-19. Since the hospital in Thane didn’t treat COVID patients, we had to look for one elsewhere. Money wasn’t an issue. But there were no beds available," said Anwar Shaikh, a family friend.

Shaikh enquired at a few hospitals including, Saifee Hospital, and was put on a waitlist after 45 people. They finally found a bed at a smaller private hospital in Kandivli. After Khan’s condition improved in a few days, he was shifted to Vedant Hospital in Thane. "We were worried as his condition worsened. Where are we to go if there are no decent hospitals in Thane? Thankfully, he is better now. But there are many facing this issue," said Shaikh.

Bhiwandi East MLA Rais Shaikh. FILE PICBhiwandi East MLA Rais Shaikh. File pic

Saying that he too received a message saying MMR patients be diverted to jumbo facilities, a senior management official from a private hospital said that it is not possible to turn patients away on such grounds. "Patients line up at our hospital and we can only assess them based on the severity of their symptoms. How can we turn them away when we have empty beds?" said the official, adding that most hospitals are admitting such patients based on the 20 per cent COVID beds in their control.
The official added that patients from MMR are largely approaching smaller private hospitals while larger private hospitals get requests from the more well-off. "Most of the patients who go to the smaller private hospitals have medical insurance since they don’t trust jumbo facilities. Businessmen and NRIs living in Navi Mumbai or Thane usually go to the large private hospitals," said the official.

Another patient who is non-COVID and suffered from portal cavernoma (a gastrointestinal disease) was admitted at a Mira Road hospital in the first week of September. Doctors there referred him to one of the five speciality hospitals in Mumbai. A relative of the patient said, "A South Mumbai hospital said there is a long waiting list and that they will inform us. We enquired with other hospitals, but in vain. The doctors in Mira Road have stabilised the patient and we are waiting for a call from the Mumbai hospital."

On the other hand, Chahal told mid-day, "My responsibility is towards the residents of Mumbai. If they prefer private hospitals then I should give preference to them in private hospitals. Simultaneously, we are allowing other patients in jumbo facilities. I feel jumbos are better healthcare facilities."

'Who is responsible?'

Activist Rajendra Dhage, who focuses on patients’ rights, said, "Vasai-Virar does not have multi-speciality hospitals. The state government started the campaign, ‘My Family, My Responsibility’. Who is responsible for the poor health infrastructure in MMR? Is it our fault that there is no good healthcare in our area?"

Bhiwandi East MLA Rais Shaikh. FILE PICBhiwandi East MLA Rais Shaikh. FILE PIC

Bhiwandi East MLA and Samajwadi Party leader Rais Shaikh, said, "Such action is unwarranted and even illegal. The smaller municipal corporations are not fortunate enough to have quality healthcare like Mumbai’s. The city has always taken care of people from the outskirts and during such a crisis, they are asking hospitals to send people to jumbo facilities that even Mumbaikars have no faith in."

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First Published: 25 September, 2020 07:07 IST

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