First, Harshal Nehete lost his mother Tila Nehete, 60, to the virus, as she waited for six hours for an ICU bed at the Jalgaon civil hospital.
And on Wednesday, the partially decomposed body of Harshal’s grandmother was found curled on the floor of a toilet cubicle in the same hospital.
Malati Nehete, 82, had been missing since June 2. Staff at the hospital, where she had been admitted with Covid-19 symptoms, had insisted that “she had simply walked away”.
For a full eight days, no hospital staffer had gone to open or clean the cubicle in which Malati’s body was found, let alone look for the elderly woman.
They broke open the door on Wednesday only after patients in the ward who were using the other cubicles in the toilet complained that they could no longer bear the stench.
“Such episodes shake the faith of the public in the system. I have arranged for Covid-19 treatment in two private hospitals and all critical patients will be shifted there,” District Collector Avinash Dhakne said.
Late on Wednesday night, five officials of the hospital, including Dean Dr B S Khaire, were suspended. Sanjay Mukherjee, Secretary, Medical Education, said a detailed inquiry had been ordered.
Before Malati, three other “breathless” Covid-19 patients had died while attempting to reach the toilet in the isolation ward of the civil hospital, district records show.
The isolation ward does not have bedpans to provide to patients. Senior officials said, “nurses and staffers are not willing to touch patients”.
Malati was Covid-positive, but she was mistakenly put in the civil hospital’s suspected Covid cases ward. Jalgaon district has one of the highest fatality rates for the disease in India. Two other facilities for treatment have been opened recently, but the bulk of the patients in the district continue to be admitted to the civil hospital.
“Main sochta hoon to kaamp jaata hoon, woh kaise chal ke gayi hogi akele toilet tak? Wo to theek se chal bhi nahi paati thi (I shiver to think how she managed to get to the toilet; she could not even walk properly),” Harshal, 32, said.
Harshal is a marketing executive who lives in Pune. His wife is in the final month of her pregnancy. His father Tulsiram is recovering from Covid-19 in a private hospital in Nashik. No one in the family could attend the funerals of his mother and grandmother.
The family is grieving and feels helpless, but more than anything else, they are angry. “We can afford treatment in a private hospital, but rules did not allow Covid-19 patients to get admitted there. Who is responsible for this (Malati’s) death?” Anil Nehete, a close relative, said.
Anil had been going to police stations and returning to the hospital every day since Malati disappeared.
The first in the family to test positive was Tulsiram Nehete, Harshal’s father. Harshal’s mother Tila and grandmother Malati tested positive on May 23. They were put up in a government school and later, at the railway hospital.
While at the railway hospital, Tila had had her own toilet experience – and had told her son about it. “She had tried to walk to the toilet and collapsed there. No staffer had come to help her. After two hours, another patient had helped her back to her bed,” Harshal said.
On May 31, when Tila’s condition worsened, she was shifted to the Jalgaon civil hospital, a dedicated Covid facility. But no ICU bed at the hospital was free, and she died after six hours in the waiting room.
On June 1, Malati’s health deteriorated. She suffered from weakness, medical records show. She too was shifted to the civil hospital, and put in the hospital’s ward number 7, which is meant for suspected Covid cases.
The next day, at 4.30 pm, when Harshal called, a ward boy told him that his grandmother was “missing”.
On June 4, hospital doctor Prasad Khairne informed the family that Malati had been found, and that she was stable. But on June 5, when Anil went to hospital and showed Malati’s photo to a nurse, he was told that she had been missing since June 2. The family registered a missing person complaint the same day.
Jalgaon City police officials visited the wards and corridors but could not find Malati. “I told the doctors to check the toilets because my mother had collapsed in one. But no one checked,” Harshal said.
After the body was found in toilet number 1 of Ward 7, Collector Dhakne immediately asked for a check against Malati’s photo. “I suspected it would be her,” he said.
Pratibha Shinde of the NGO Lok Sangarsh Morcha filed a complaint of medical negligence against the hospital on Wednesday. “Patients gasp for oxygen, ask for food. Nobody is here to look after them,” she said.
When The Indian Express visited the hospital last week, there was no one to stop the entry of people in the isolation ward. Faheemuddin Shaikh, a patient, had complained that doctors did not come to check him. Another patient, Ayaz Khan, had said that nurses threw medicines towards patients from far. A ward boy had said that “they were scared” to enter the Covid wards.
State officials said a counselling sessions are required for hospital staffers to assist patients who are breathless and can’t walk.
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