The fear of COVID-19 widespread, Mumbai’s frontline health facilities – clinics in slums and nursing homes in neighbourhood – are shutting down one by one.
In Jogeshwari, City Hospital shut down completely on Wednesday. On its grilled gate, a note “sorry for inconvenience” was pasted. The hospital provided affordable treatment for slumdwellers from Behrambaug, Jogeshwari East and Goregaon. “The hospital did not want to take risks, several people from slums are being diagnosed with COVID-19,” the security guard said.
In the opposite lane, Dr Z N Quraishi shut his clinic earlier this week after rumours spread that there are infected people in the neighbourhood. He would always have a queue of poor patients waiting. Quraishi was afraid his clinic will become a source of cross infection. He shut his clinic, got himself tested – it came negative – but still remains under home quarantine. His patients are now forced to look for alternatives further away.
Jogeshwari Trauma hospital, the nearest government facility, has been converted into an isolation facility. People are scared to go there.
Three km away, in Andheri West, LifeLine clinic shut down four days ago. The clinic ran out of masks, its owner Dr Siddharth Lalitkumar could not take further risk. “I have no personal protective equipment (PPE). As much as I want to, I can’t risk coming in contact with one infected patient and infect others,” he said. He consults on phone, and has visited two severely ill patients at home when phone consultation did not help.
Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and Public Health Minister Rajesh Tope have urged private clinics and hospitals to remain open. However, doctors said the government needs to provide training and protective gear if they want small set-ups to continue functioning.
In Goregaon, Dr Sudhir Naik runs a 15-bed maternity home, which is now open only for deliveries. Relatives are not allowed to enter. From 70 to 80 per day, the nursing home sees 10 to 15 patients now.
Nurses and ward boys roam around in plastic raincoats, their protective shield. “What can I do? There are no PPEs in the market. Manufacturers said they have been instructed to save most stock for government hospitals,” said Naik. The staff has been advised to wash the raincoats thoroughly in warm water and reuse.
While some clinics and nursing homes are shutting due to lack of protective gear, others are struggling to remain open with scarce staff.
Outside Ruby Hospital, Barsati Kevat waited as his 26-year-old daughter tried to get her sonography done. This is Pushpa Kevat’s first pregnancy, and she is suffering from heavy bleeding in her second month of gestation. Her gynaecologist could not come to hospital, she could only consult with her on phone. “She asked us to go to the government hospital. Nobody is ready to give time in government hospital,” Kevat said.
Recently, BMC had called the hospital to inform that a patient who visited Ruby hospital had tested positive to COVID-19 nine days later. Immediately, a doctor was tested. While he tested negative, since then the out patient department has been shut.
Paediatrician Dr Ashish Pathrekar said there is 40 per cent reduction in staff since the number of cases began to surge in Mumbai. Commuting is a major challenge for staffers. “Critical children are checked on this marble table, which is easy to disinfect. But for adults, how do we disinfect the cots frequently?” Pathrekar asked. If a patient has cough and cold, he is not allowed to enter the hospital.
In 20-bed Noor hospital, Dr Aabid Khan is worried that the nursing home is on verge of shutting down. Staff strength is at 50 per cent. The staffers and doctors have asked for protective gear, but stock is not available. “Every day we risk our lives,” Khan said. He consults in multiple small nursing homes in suburbs that have downed their shutters. Noor hospital is the only one open. “But for how many days, we don’t know,” he added.
Several doctors said even if they want to consult, hospitals do not have masks and gloves. Mumbai is reporting several COVID-19 cases from slums, chawls and residential areas where people with no travel history are testing positive. “In such a scenario, we don’t know which patient may carry the infection. If a doctor is infected but remains asymptomatic and continues to consult, he is accused of spreading the infection,” said general physician Dr Shahid Barmare. “We have to fight a battle with no gun in hand.”
Several hospitals have also been closed down by the BMC temporarily. Jaslok Hospital, B D Petit Parsee General hospital, Breach Candy, Saifee hospital, Sai hospital, Wockhardt and Hiranandani Fortis hospital’s services have been partially or completely shut after admitted patients tested positive. According to M-West ward civic officer, Sai hospital was shut on March 31 to undertake a massive sanitisation exercise after a patient tested positive. But the panic scared several nurses and staffers, who stopped reporting to duty.
In Saifee hospital, an entire CT scan unit and multiple services were shut after an 85-year-old surgeon who underwent a CT scan tested positive and later passed away. A cleaner in the hospital is among the infected. “We are scared of going back to work. The hospital must ensure proper prevention mechanism,” a nurse, who remains under quarantine in the hospitaal hostel, said. Jaslok shut its OPD after six employees tested positive.
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