As they face dwindling footfall in out-patient departments and shortage of healthcare staff, private hospitals in the city are also trying to figure out how to manage the costs of treating COVID-19 patients. Some private hospitals have already been roped into the government’s fight against the pandemic.
“If the government plans to send their own COVID-19 patients to private hospitals, then what is the mechanism so that we can recover the cost,” asked Dr Dhananjay Kelkar, medical director at Deenanath Mangeshkar Hospital.
Dr H K Sale, executive director at Noble Hospital, sought to know the compensation package and pointed out that existing government insurance schemes would be inadequate to cover the cost incurred by private hospitals.
Most private hospital authorities also admitted that they had to cajole their healthcare staff to return to work amid the pandemic. Sixty staffers of Noble Hospital, including doctors, nurses and others, had simply stopped coming to work, said Dr Sale.
At Sahyadri Speciality Hospital, authorities admitted that initially, 18-20 of the healthcare staff simply quit. “We had to persuade them to return,” said one of the officials.
These and other such issues will be taken up at a meeting on Tuesday with government health authorities, said Dr Subhash Salunkhe, chairman of the Communicable Diseases Prevention Control Technical Committee. “The primary issues are logistics of patients at private hospitals and how charges will be paid to private hospitals by the government,” said a health department official.
On the costs incurred to treat COVID-19 patients, private hospital authorities said in a 24-hour shift, with approximately 15 healthcare staffers, purchasing personal protective equipment for everyone costs a minimum of Rs 15,000 daily. “This is too much to bill a patient who is under our care for a fortnight,” said a doctor at a private hospital.
While these private hospitals have allocated part of their premises for COVID-19 patients or even segregated pathways, authorities admitted it was a challenge to work under such conditions. “We need financial support as we are working at 30 per cent capacity due to the lockdown and drop in revenue… and staff have to be paid…,”said Dr S S Gill, CEO of Jehangir Hospital.
Dr Vijay Natarajan, CEO of Symbiosis International Hospital, now a dedicated COVID-19 hospital with 500 beds, said the approximate cost for a 14-day stay at the ward, for coronavirus patients with mild symptoms, ends up being nearly Rs 35,000 to Rs 40,000. If the patient needs to be admitted to the ICU, the cost will be much higher.
Dr Sanjay Pathare, medical director of Ruby Hall Clinic, said there were no clear-cut guidelines as to which patients should be referred to the government hospitals.
The director of a private hospital said the limitations on admitting other patients was also an issue for them. “Till the time we have suspected COVID-19 patients, who are awaiting test results, it is challenging to take other patients,” he said, adding that some of the criteria should be changed by Indian Council of Medical Research to allow private hospitals, which have approved test kits and equipment, to start testing throat swabs for COVID-19.
Meanwhile, Dr Anant Phadke, co-convenor of Jan Arogya Abhiyaan, said with a tighter lockdown in place, intensified testing of contacts of COVID-19 patients was also needed. “There should be stricter isolation of patients and quarantine of contacts, apart from taking vigorous steps to ensure no stigmatisation of COVID-19 patients,” he said.
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