With COVID-19 hopscotching at a lightening pace in Bihar, lockdown has been re-imposed in certain districts. Meanwhile, the state government’s assurance about performance of public healthcare in combating the pandemic has begun to ebb due to the dramatic rise in COVID-19 cases after the second phase of easing of restrictions.
The appalling conditions inside the designated COVID-19 hospital in state capital Patna, the Nalanda Medical College and Hospital (NMCH), was exposed on July 8, when an instance of reported manhandling of COVID-19 patients came to light after visuals of an unattended dead body kept inside isolation ward surfaced in the public domain.
Awadhesh Singh (52), a businessman hailing from Motihari, East Champaran district, had tested positive for COVID-19 a week back and was admitted to NMCH on July 7. While he was still undergoing treatment, two other COVID-19 patients in the same ward were found dead. Despite two living patients including Singh being in the said ward, the hospital authorities had allegedly left the dead bodies unattended for two whole days. This was revealed when a video clip of the COVID-19 ward with the dead bodies lying surfaced on social media, which was recorded and released by Awadhesh Singh’s caretaker Mani Bhushan.
Mani Bhushan (24), a relative of Awadhesh Singh, told NewsClick over phone that the two patients in the ward were found dead since July 7. “I was not provided any protection kit. There were hardly any visits of doctors and nurses, and oxygen infrequency remained a constant problem. Even after complaining to the officials detailing about our inconvenience, no one turned up to rescue us from the ill-equipped set up,” Mani alleged.
The uninterrupted apathy of the isolation ward compelled him to record the visuals of dead bodies and upload it on social media in the hope of proper action, he added. The visuals were shared on Twitter on July 9 by a broadcast journalist Raja Agnihotri.
However, the allegations made by eye witnesses as seen in the visuals of isolation ward were rejected by the state’s health minister Mangal Pandey during a brief interaction with media.
The videos have not been independently verified by NewsClick.
After visuals of the COVID-19 ward with dead bodies went viral over social media, the bodies were reportedly removed on the same night. However, even then it took repeated requests to replace the bedsheets and get the beds sanitised, Mani alleged. When the bodies were being removed, it was found that parts of the dead body had got stuck in the bedsheet due to decomposition, the acquaintances of one of the patient revealed.
Patna’s Kulbhushan Prasad (55), another COVID-19 patient who was admitted in the hospital, also complained about absenteeism of doctor, nurse and cleanliness. He also alleged that his oxygen level was managed by caretakers of another COVID-19 patient.
While undergoing treatment, relatives of Awadhesh Singh had to self-adjust the oxygen level as dictated by nurses who were designated to treat COVID-19 patients. Despite several pleas to the nurses and management for taking care of the patient, they were denied citing unavailability of PPE kit required to take care of COVID-19 patients, Mani further alleged.
As per the April month Bihar government communiqué, state healthcare was in dire need of five lakh PPE kits, 10 lakh N-95 masks, 10 lakh other varieties of masks but has only received about 4,000 kits, 10,000 N-95 masks and just one lakh other masks. Against a demand for 10,000 RNA extraction kits, Bihar received only 250 and after demanding 100 ventilators it didn’t receive even one.
As per local reports, on one hand the NMCH Nodal officer Ajay Kumar Sinha denied the delay in removing dead bodies of COVID-19 patients, while on the other he said that the families of dead bodies could not be contacted which had led to dead bodies not being removed. NewsClick tried contacting the superintendent of NMCH, but there was no response.
NMCH has been in the headlines for apathetic and mismanaged health services. Last month, a video had surfaced in which an old man was seen lying on the ground in pain. People were heard asking others to help him. The incident was reported to have occurred inside NMCH campus. The patient later died.
On March 23, 83 junior doctors at the hospital under the banner of Junior Doctors’ Association (JDA) wrote to the NMCH superintendent for permission to go on a 15-day home quarantine as most of them had started to show symptoms of COVID-19 including sore throat, cough and fever. However, the request was not entertained because the truncated healthcare system could not afford to lose any members of its workforce, according to Caravan. Later, the doctors took medication and were provided with PPE kits which were, however, insufficient for the existing workforce. But the dearth of protection gears among the hospital staff was clearly visible when case of unattended dead bodies came to fore.
It must be noted that, in March end, NMCH was converted into a special hospital for COVID-19 patients – which prompted criticism from doctors and medical staff workers due to its inadequate infrastructure to deal with critical patients. A doctor, on the condition of anonymity over telephonic conversation said, “The NMCH Superintendent, who was to retire from service few months back took an opportunity to receive plaudits from the state health department and so pushed NMCH to be state’s first dedicated COVID hospital. Its emergency ward inundated during last monsoon with fish swimming on its floor. How can a hospital with underfunded and dilapidated infrastructure be a special COVID-19 hospital?”
Likwise government hospitals such as Patna Medical College and Hospital (PMCH), Indira Gandhi Institute of Medical Sciences (IGIMS) have also been receiving complaints of bed unavailability for potential patients of COVID-19, extremely low testing rate due to no facility, insufficient number of ventilators and oxygen cylinders or experts to handle COVID-19 patients as reported by media outlets.
The author is an independent journalist based in Bihar.