Pune hospitals unable to cope with COVID surge. What could be the solution?

COVID-19 AND MEDICAL INFRASTRUCTURE

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Doctor collects swab samples in Covid designated Aundh Hopital, Pune. Pic Milind Saurkar

Swati Patil can’t stop crying. It has been ten days since she lost her mother due to unavailability of a hospital bed. “If only we had got a bed for dialysis, she would still be alive today,” she said, holding her mother’s photo close to her heart.

“There was nothing wrong with her,” says Swati. “She was coughing the other day and the family doctor mentioned that we go for a COVID-19 test. All of us tested negative except my mother. It took us four days to find a bed in the municipal-run Kasturba Hospital in Somwar Peth, which has 25 total beds allotted for COVID-19 patients. All the private hospitals said they were full. Two days after she was admitted, she was gone. I couldn’t even meet her.” Her mother was 61 and her death was recorded due to comorbidities.

Even as Pune registers an increasing number of positive cases (the city had recorded its first case on March 30th, a 52-year-old man who was treated at a private hospital), shortage of hospital beds, in both public and private hospitals, is assuming serious proportions. This, despite there being around 100 private hospitals in Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad offering their services to COVID patients, with the government planning to also include some 700 other nursing homes in the COVID network. 

The PMC launched an app as well as a dashboard –  which gives information on beds available and where. But given the reluctance of private hospitals to depute their staff to collate and upload this information on the website, there is no guarantee that the data on the website is accurate. Private hospitals, in particular, are demanding that the PMC use their staff for this data entry work.

Jumbo care centres

Meanwhile, a jumbo COVID care centre with 1600 beds has been set up on the SSPMS ground near RTO and at the College of Engineering Pune (COEP) ground. Of these, 1,200 will be oxygen beds and 400 will be ICU beds.

This is following orders from Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar to set up such care centres immediately to handle the sharp increase in the number of positive patients in the district. The Pune administration is considering two more sites, among them PCMC’s Balnagari and auto-cluster which is being converted into a 1000-bedded COVID Care Centre. Both facilities will be operational soon.

Projections indicate that by the end of August, the number of COVID patients could well cross the two lakh mark in Pune city.

Some housing societies like Vedanta Co-operative housing society, Solana Housing society in Wakad (this area has the maximum number of corona positive patients) have stepped in to create quarantine zones within the premises to help tide over the problem of shortage of beds.

“I live with my wife in a two-bedroom house, so I have self isolated myself in one of the bedrooms,” said a 30-year-old employee of a cane manufacturing unit, who tested positive. “My wife prepares food and leaves it near the door. Society members who were informed of my condition have all helped. Even the doctors at Sahyadri Hospital as well as PMC medical officers have been helpful. I was provided with a kit which includes an oxymeter, thermometer, sanitizer and mask by the hospital.” 

Home quarantine emphasis

While the protocol is to allow those with mild symptoms to go into home quarantine, for those who need hospital admission, there continue to be reports of several people like Swati who have lost their dear ones to unavailability of hospital beds.

The Indian Medical Association’s (IMA) hospital association however insists that most private hospitals are fully cooperating in fighting the pandemic. There is but a lack of co-ordination and communication with the various government offices, admitted IMA Pune president, Dr Sanjay Patil. 

“Almost all private hospitals are full with almost 8000 patients who have tested COVID-19 positive. Although the recovery rate is good, the main problem is of managing asymptomatic patients at home, especially among the economically weaker sections. Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC)’s hospitals and health facilities have not been maintained or are lying unused.” 

Dr Sanjay Patil, President – IMA, Pune; Head of Hospital Board of India.

Private hospitals and practitioners also report the issues that irk them: compulsory documentation and updating of data, poaching of staff by municipal hospitals, the price cap leading to losses and the burden of more taxes for biowaste disposal. 

Data entry tussle

According to a private doctor practising in a clinic working with the PMC, “the number of patients are on the rise and we are helping them, but all this administrative work hinders our working hours.”

“All the tertiary care hospitals in the city are reeling under the pressure,” said Dr H K Sale, Executive director, Noble hospital, Hadapsar. “We increased ICU beds from 24 to 31, yet is it not enough. It is difficult to work in these conditions, although we are following the new government protocols to discharge cured patients in less than 10 days, with home care package. But this is not enough given the rising numbers.” 

Dr Sale also added that non-COVID surgical patients have also increased and these patients too have to undergo COVID-19 tests. Expectant mothers are to undergo COVID-19 testing five days prior to their due date. 

Rapid antigen testing in Pune district is the highest in the state according to PMC Additional Commissioner Rubal Agarwal. “PMC has till date done 3,02,945 tests while recovery rate in the  city has increased to 70.29% and mortality rate has decreased to 2.35%,” said Rubal.

Dr Pavan Salve, PCMC health and medical officer, said that while cases in and around Pune are increasing currently, his hunch was that by the end of August, the increase in positive cases in the city will slow down. “Although PCMC will be crossing the 30,000 active cases mark, it will come under control in the next 15 days and it will not turn into a new COVID-19 hotspot.”

Everyone is keeping their fingers crossed on that.

Also read:

Apps and more from Pune Smart City to battle COVID, but not all are cheering!

How an association of Pune housing societies came together to fight the pandemic

About Prachi Bari 1 Article
Prachi Bari is a senior journalist based in Pune.