A 49-year-old man, complaining of severe breathlessness, died as his family unsuccessfully tried to admit him in eight hospitals between Friday night and Saturday morning, his brother alleged.
“My brother could have been saved if he would have been put on ventilator on time. For almost eight hours, we rushed from one hospital to another. At each hospital, we begged the authorities to admit him. But all efforts were in vain. We lost him,” said Avidan Rasal, younger brother of Sudarshan Rasal (49).
Rasal lived in Worli, a hotspot in Mumbai for COVID-19. There are at least 388 confirmed cases in the ward, the highest for any ward in Mumbai. Sudarshan often had cough and breathing problems, had diabetes and high blood pressure. He had a mild cough for the last few days. On Friday night, he had breathing problems and vomiting. His family rushed him to Kasturba hospital as they thought he had caught the infection. Avidan alleged the doctors there examined him without any tests and said he didn’t have COVID-19.
Through the night, they went to Nair hospital, St George’s, KEM, ENT hospital, Global, Hinduja and then Nanavati before returning home. He passed away in the morning due to acute respiratory distress. The family will never know if he had COVID-19 because Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) guidelines do not allow collecting swab from a dead person.
The family alleged he was denied admission at both BMC and private hospitals due to shortage of beds. They live in Bavan Chawl in Worli, which was declared a containment zone last week after a COVID-19 case was found within a km from his residence. Most clusters in Worli have been turned into containment zones.
Rasal was a share taxi driver on the route between Mahindra Towers in Worli and Prabhadevi railway station. After the lockdown last month, he had been at home. At 11.30 on Friday he started vomiting. “We took him in our taxi to Kasturba hospital, where they said it doesn’t seem he has COVID-19. From there, we were asked to go to Nair hospital,” said Avidan. At Nair, the family said they were told there are no beds. “The staff told us to visit St George’s. After several requests, the doctor gave him medication but refused to admit him,” alleged Avidan.
Dr Akash Khobragade, medical superintendent at St George’s hospital, said, “We are only admitting critical COVID-19 patients with oxygen saturation below 90 per cent. Stable patients are usually referred,” he said.
The family then went to KEM at 2 am on Saturday. “There also they refused to admit him saying they don’t have ventilators,” said Avidan.
Dean Dr Hemant Deshmukh said, “KEM is not a dedicated COVID-19 hospital. If a patient has symptoms, he has to go to a dedicated hospital. Our hospital beds are already full of acute respiratory patients.”
The family said they were told to go to ENT Hospital in Fort. “The KEM doctor said they had called a doctor in ENT. We waited almost one hour at ENT. Finally a doctor came and after checking documents refused admission saying they don’t have ventilators,” said another family member, waiting outside Nair hospital on Saturday afternoon to take custody of the body.
Their ordeal did not end there. They went to Global hospital, a private hospital in Parel. The family alleged they were refused admission due to bed shortage. A hospital spokesperson said, “A woman came up to the ER with the medical papers of her relative, the patient, who was referred from another hospital for lack of beds. The relative asked whether a bed was available at our hospital. Since all beds were occupied the EMO directed the patient to other identified hospitals as per MCGM guidelines.”
“By that time his condition had started deteriorating. We again went to KEM. We told them the problem we were facing. But doctors said they can’t do anything. My sister in law literally begged them to do something so that his life can be saved. But they said they are helpless,” Avidan told The Indian Express. “If doctors say they are helpless where will the poor like us go?”
The family went to PD Hinduja, Mahim, around 5 am. After 45 minutes of wait they went to Nanavati hospital in Santacruz. They family alleged both hospitals said beds were reserved for COVID-19 patients. Nanavati hospital officials also said no official record was available to show Sudarshan was brought to the hospital. A source, however, said the hospital has divided beds between COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients and suspected cases fall through the gap.
In response to questions by The Indian Express, a spokesperson of PD Hinduja Hospital & MRC, said: “As per our attending doctors in the patient screening area, the patient came on April 18 and had a letter from KEM identifying him as a high-risk suspected COVID case and recommending admission to three hospitals among declared COVID hospitals in Mumbai by the government. PD Hinduja hospital in Mumbai doesn’t fall in that category and was not in the list of three recommended hospitals in the letter. Hence, the patient was asked to proceed to the recommended hospitals on priority, as per government guidelines.”
When the Indian Express checked with BMC, all three private hospitals– Global, Hinduja and Nanavati– have reserved beds and are supposed to treat Covid-19 patients.
At 7.30 am on Saturday, the family called 108 hoping the ambulance will take them to a hospital. “But it also came late. My brother was breathing very heavily and he wanted to urinate. When we lifted him, he suddenly collapsed. The ambulance came one hour late and the doctor in it said he is no more,” he said.
They called another ambulance after the 108 ambulance refused to transport the body. Family friend Naresh Gaikwad said, “This is complete negligence. He would have not lost his life if a simple ventilator was made available.”
A senior doctor from JJ hospital said there is no clear policy on referral of patients causing confusion on admission of suspected COVID-19 patients. “We had a suspected COVID-19 patient who remained the entire night in JJ hospital and was not admitted, finally she was referred to St George’s,” the doctor said.
As on April 16, data, presented by BMC commissioner Praveen Pardeshi in a Loksatta Webinar held on Friday, showed in private hospitals dedicated for COVID-19 treatment, a vacancy of 34 per cent was available out of 360 beds allocated for coronavirus patients.
Nanavati allocated 48 beds, of them 38 beds had COVID-19 patients admitted; Global allocated 19 beds, but only two positive patients were admitted; PD Hinduja allocated 19 beds and 11 positive patients were admitted there, until April 16. The remaining beds had patients with other illnesses.
BMC has now started auditing deaths before confirming them as COVID-19 cases. In Sudarshan’s case, the body was sealed as per infectious disease protocol and cremated but no swab was taken. With handkerchiefs around their faces as their only protection, the family cremated his body by Saturday afternoon.
Dr R N Bharmal, dean of Nair hospital, said no swab sample was taken because ICMR guidelines do not allow swabs of dead bodies to be taken.
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