Saligaon resident Ashley Delaney’s former teacher Avito was among the 26 Covid-19 patients who died Tuesday at Goa Medical College and Hospital (GMCH), the state’s largest Covid facility, of suspected oxygen shortage. Delaney, whose father-in-law is admitted in the same ward of GMCH, has been going to the hospital every day since April 21. He said he has been flagging the drop in oxygen levels at night to the administration for days.
“I used to keep pointing it out. At one point my father-in-law survived only because he got the cylinder of someone who didn’t make it,” said Delaney.
He wasn’t the only one raising the issue. Six days before the 26 deaths, Goa Association of Resident Doctors wrote to the GMCH Dean flagging the crisis at night.
On Wednesday, as the matter came up before the High Court of Bombay at Goa, which is hearing a bunch of PILs on the matter, Dean S M Bandekar admitted there were issues with oxygen supply at the hospital, as well as casualties due to it.
The HC noted: “The material placed before us establishes that patients are indeed suffering and, in some cases, succumbing for want of oxygen in the state of Goa.”
Delaney said he and other attendants had been reluctant to speak about the shortage as they feared a fallout on their relatives admitted in the hospital. “Then one day, the entire ward ran out (of oxygen) and I said enough is enough. I started making calls to everyone and posting on social media.”
Dr Pratik Savant, the president of the Goa Association of Resident Doctors, who has been posted at the GMCH Covid ward since the pandemic began last year, said they are left helpless at night. “There comes a point when you have to choose whom to let go… It is very difficult especially if it is because of lack of oxygen,” he said. “In the morning shift you can ask for more reinforcements but on night duty, when you have only a couple of doctors manning a ward of around 40-60 patients, if oxygen pressure starts dropping, and everyone becomes critical, it becomes an issue. We have seen that between 2 am and 6 am.”
On May 5, in its letter to the GMCH Dean, the resident doctors’ association had said, “On a daily basis, we read in the news all the higher authorities giving statements that there is no issue of oxygen and beds. The patients then ask the resident doctors on duty… that if there is no lack of beds, why our patient is kept on trolley/wheelchairs/floor and why is our patient not getting oxygen. In the middle of the night when oxygen gets over and patients worsen and sometimes die, it’s the junior doctor on duty who has to face angry relatives.”
The first to flag the 26 deaths at GMCH in the early hours of Tuesday, Goa Health Minister Vishwajit Rane had also called the window between 2 am and 6 am at the hospital the most critical. Incidentally, on Wednesday evening, a councillor from the Corporation of the City of Panaji (CCP), Bento Lorena, filed a complaint at the Panaji Police Station against Rane and owner of Scoop Oxygen, that supplies oxygen to GMCH, citing the letter by the resident doctors’ association.
Lorena said the deaths in GMCH due to oxygen shortage were solely the fault of Rane and Scoop, and they should be booked for criminal conspiracy and culpable homicide.
The South Goa Advocates Association, that filed one of the PILs pertaining to Covid management before the High Court, on Wednesday submitted an affidavit by lawyer Chaitanya Padgonkar, indicating an oxygen crisis at GMCH since April.
Padgaonkar, 29, said his father had tested positive on April 17 and was admitted to GMCH on April 19. On April 28, he was put on a ventilator in the ICU after his blood oxygen saturation dropped below 90%. Padgaonkar said that at 10:30 that night, an attendant called him to say that oxygen from the central supply line had stopped and would take 20 minutes to be restored. Padgaonkar said he rushed to the hospital and found that his father’s SPO2 was down to 35%.
“The sight in the ward was nothing less than horrific, the patients were in absolute discomfort, the attendants were either trying to frantically fan the patients with cardboards/papers or tapping their backs, trying to help them to breathe and put them at ease… almost all patients in the ICU ward breathe through a ventilator, and oxygen supply itself being discontinued even for a few minutes is life threatening to these patients. If I recollect correctly, a patient on bed No. 12 in the ICU expired during the said fiasco on that night,” Padgaonkar’s affidavit stated. He said that while he arranged for oxygen cylinders for his father on his own, he passed away on April 30.
Padgaonkar added that he does not attribute criminal negligence to any doctors at GMCH.
Goa Forward Party president Vijai Sardesai accused the government of having “blood on its hands”, and hinted that the crisis was the result of the internal power struggle within the BJP.
Meanwhile, Delaney said, doctors at GMCH told him on Wednesday that they had also run out of expensive medicines. Patients have been asked to arrange for Teicoplanin injection on own, he said. “They have run out of NRM (Non Rebreather Masks), expensive medication… That’s an expense of over Rs 4,000 every day that patients have to bear. Of all the days, this happened today.