Seventy-four private hospitals registered as charitable trusts in Mumbai have 1,738 beds between them that are devoted to the poor. But according to the latest updates available with the office of the state Charity Commissioner, 1,540 or roughly 89 per cent remain unoccupied.
At a time when Mumbai’s public hospitals are overburdened amid the Covid-19 crisis, the city’s posh private hospitals are failing to fill the beds earmarked for the poor. “These hospitals were granted land at cheap rates and offered various concessions based on a clear understanding that they would treat charity cases as well. When the city is grappling with an unprecedented public health crisis, they need to held accountable for these beds. If not now, when?” asked former public health minister Suresh Shetty.
Till Monday evening, only 198 patients were occupying such reserved beds in these hospitals, revealed the data. Of them, 165 patients had been offered free treatment and 33 had been admitted on concession basis. “The Charity Commissioner had issued notices to some of the hospitals just before the state went into lockdown. But there hasn’t been drastic improvement,” said a senior official. An official in the commissioner’s office, meanwhile, complained that the hospitals were also flouting the norm that requires them to update the bed availability on a real-time basis.
Between them, these 74 private hospitals – including all the posh hospitals in Mumbai – have a total operational bed strength of 8,690. As per norms, 1,738 of these are devoted to the poor.
Data further showed that the occupancy rate is poorer on such beds in charitable hospitals in the suburbs, when compared to ones in the island city. Records showed that 676 of the 730 reserved beds, roughly 93 per cent, in the 35 such hospitals in the more populated suburbs of Mumbai were lying vacant. In the island city, the numbers were only slightly better – with 864 of 1,008 beds (86 per cent) still unoccupied.
Dr Sudhakar Shinde, Chief Executive Officer of State Health Assurance Society, said: “The government is willing to address all issues faced by private hospitals. But they should implement the norms or face action.”
Under Section 41AA of the Bombay Public Charitable Trust Act (1950), all such hospitals are legally obliged to reserve a fifth of the total number of operational beds for the underprivileged. Patients from families with an annual income less than Rs 85,000 are eligible for free treatment, while those earning below Rs 1.6 lakh receive a concession of 50 per cent. The Charity Commissioner’s records show that among the major private hospitals, Bhatia hospital had 16 vacant beds in the free-bed category of a total 20. All 20 beds in the category were vacant in Breach Candy. Lilavati Hospital, similarly, had all 30 beds vacant and in Nanavati Hospital, 34 out of 35 free beds were vacant.
But private hospitals argued they were also in a fix due to staff shortage and lack of infrastructure to deal with Covid-19 cases. Some said the initial hurdle they faced was seeing their staffers get infected with Covid-19 and their facilities being sealed off.
Dr R B Dastur, medical director of Bhatia Hospital, said, “We do not have the required staff to make all the beds functional in the hospital right now. If we get more nurses, we can make more beds functional.” He said eight nurses had quit and two others had left without notice to return to their native places amid the pandemic.
Several other hospitals also complained of nurses quitting as a reason to kept only a limited number of beds functional. “We all want to cooperate. We’ve already given an assurance (to the government) to increase the number of operational beds and ICUs,” said Dr V Ravishankar, medical director of Lilavati Hospital. “There are challenges. Hospitals are slowly trying to scale up capacity,” he added.
Shetty, however, demanded that these 20 per cent charity beds should be taken over by the government if the private hospitals do not fill these up urgently.