Lokmanya Tilak Municipal General Hospital, Mumbai. | Image Courtesy: Entrance Zone
Nirmala Salve, a resident of Mulund in north-east Mumbai, died of COVID-19 on Wednesday evening after she did not get ventilator support for close to 26 hours. She had been admitted to Mulund's M.T. Agrawal Hospital on June 7 – she tested positive for COVID-19 on June 9. Since then, members of her family tried to get her shifted to hospitals in the eastern suburbs, from Mulund to Ghatkopar. However, all the hospitals looking after COVID-19 hospitals were full, and Salve's family failed to arrange a bed for her.
The M.T. Agrawal Hospital has only four ventilators and all of them were being used for other patients at the time. As a result, the hospital administration decided to shift Salve to a government hospital in Sion. However, it took hours for the hospital to arrange for an ambulance to shift the patient. She was finally taken to the Lokmanya Tilak Municipal General Hospital in Sion (Sion Hospital), but it was too late. Salve died within an hour of being admitted to the facility.
"Had our patient received treatment in time and got ventilator support on time, she would have survived. Government hospitals are not responding to urgent patients. This death is result of the government's systems failing," said Salve's nephew and niece. Local corporator Prakash Gangadhare also blamed the state government and the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation for her death. "If you go to any hospital in the Mumbai, you will find the same situation. The hospitals are full, there are no bed available. I am trying between five to seven patients admitted to hospitals everyday," said Gangadhare.
Dr. Pradeep Angre, the Dean of Sion Hospital, said that there were non-COVID patients in the ICU ward at the moment, and that the COVID ICU ward was full. “We are trying to convert the entire ICU ward into a COVID-19 ward. When the patient (Salve) came to our hospital, her oxygen saturation level was below 50 mm Hg (a patient requires supplemental oxygen when the number drops below 60 mm Hg). She was sent here since no other hospital was willing to to admit her. We tried to treat her but it was late," he said.
Salve’s story is not an aberration. There are many such cases happening on a daily basis in in Mumbai. On Wednesday, June 10, 97 persons died due to COVID-19 in Mumbai. It was the highest number of deaths in the city due to the novel coronavirus till date. A total of 149 people had died in Maharashtra on the same day. The spike in the number of deaths shows that the situation in Maharashtra, particularly Mumbai, is very grim.
As of now, there are 52,667 COVID-19 cases in Mumbai, a number which includes the 1,857 people that have succumbed to the disease. The total number of patients in Maharashtra 94,041 while the active number of cases is 46,074. A total of 3,438 people have died due to COVID-19 in Maharashtra so far. A total of 27,228 people are in institutional quarantine while 5,69,145 are in home quarantine.
The numbers are enough to show how desperate the situation is at present. A major hurdle is the shortage of ICU beds in the city. As Salve and many other patients have died due to a lack of ICU beds, ventilator facilities or oxygen, the BMC has come under fire. There are 1,164 ICU beds all over the city at the moment. The BMC is planning on adding 500 more beds by the end of this month.
"There will be 500 more beds till June 30. We are looking to add 300 beds in the next ten days and the remaining 200 by the end of the month," said BMC Commissioner I.S. Chahal.
The BMC and the state government continue to claim that the situation in Mumbai is under control. "Right now, I can definitely say that the situation in Mumbai is not as bad as in other countries or even in other states. The curve is flattening. We need to be more cautious for a few more weeks," said Rajesh Tope, the Minister of Public Health and Family Welfare for Maharashtra.
At the beginning of May, the doubling-rate of COVID-19 in Mumbai was 11 days. The number has now increased to 24.5 days. However, data cannot hide the situation seen in hospitals around Maharashtra, despite the BMC and the state government’s claims that the situation is under control.