On Sunday evening, volunteers at the gurdwara in Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER) found a sick old man dead on his bed. Nathu Ram from Bilaspur in Himachal Pradesh had been there for three weeks. He had come from Anandpur Saheb all by himself, stricken with a chest ailment. During his stay at PGIMER, none of his family members came to visit him. “We kept waiting, but no one visited this gurdwara to see him. He was left alone and we had to take him to hospital for treatment,” said Son Singh, a sewadar (volunteer) at the gurdwara. But Ram’s relatives came in the early hours of Monday, after being informed of his death. “His family arrived at night when everyone was asleep and took away his body,” he added.
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At the disaster ward of PGI’s Advance Trauma Centre, 38-year-old Bunty from Yamunanagar (Haryana) has been admitted for the last one month. Though his family members knew he was there, his brother and wife came to see him just once. “We have to take care of him because no one from his family has showed up,” said an official from city-based NGO Lifeline. The organisation has deputed its workers at PGIMER to take care of patients like Bunty, who have been dumped by their family. At the gurdwara where Ram died, Singh said many patients, who do not have friends or family, take shelter there. Pointing at another patient, Manohar Lal from Kurukshetra, Singh said the man had “multiple diseases”. “When we ask him about his family, he says he has children. But, no one has ever visited him,” said Singh. Lal told Chandigarh Newsline that he had a son. “But the world is opportunistic.” PGI doctors say generally, it is people in dire financial straits who abandon sick family members at the hospital.
“Either they (families) run out of money or they don’t have money to treat patients,” said PGI’s ATC nodal officer Dr Sameer Aggarwal, adding that such patients are mostly from Uttar Pradesh and the hospital records around five “unknown” patients a week. Unknown patients, Aggarwal said, are those who are not accompanied by any family member while being admitted to the hospital.
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According to PGI records, 675 unknown patients were recorded in 2014 and 574 in 2015. This year, till September, the number was 414. “We always try to find out and contact the families of those abandoned at the hospital,” said Dr Navneet Dhaliwal, from PGI’s department of administration. “Our security staff involves Chandigarh police to pressure their families to visit the hospital. In case that fails, we contact city-based NGOs to rehabilitate them,” she said, adding that in many cases, the family members take the patient away once informed that he is fit for release. “We send many patients dumped by their families to various shelter homes,” she said.
Prabh Aasra, an organisation providing shelters to the destitute in Kurali, Punjab, is one of them.
“Family members of 20 per cent patients don’t want to take them home because they are mentally sick or elderly,” said Rajinder Kaur, administrator of the home, adding that Aasra receives patients abandoned by their families at various Chandigarh hospitals, including PGIMER.
“A young boy from Ludhiana had met with an accident in 2013. We provided treatment for two years. His father was aware about him, but he didn’t want to take him back ,” said Kaur. “He was sent from PGI and we had no option but to keep him and provide treatment.” Despite the best treatment, Kaur said, the boy died last year.