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How private hospitals are running the show amid the lock-down

Diksha Munjal Mumbai | Updated on March 26, 2020

From using ambulance for work commute to frequent double shifts, doctors, nurses and ward boys are going the extra mile

On a normal weekday, Saifee Hospital in south Mumbai’s Charni Road area hosts crowds of patients who line up for its outpatient department (OPD) consultation. These are patients who make appointments days in advance to see the various visiting speciality doctors.

Amid a complete lock-down, the ever-thronging corridors of the hospital lie vacant. The hospital had to suspend its OPD functions and is pulling every muscle to keep emergency services up and running.

“Some of the nursing staff and resident doctors have started staying overnight, pulling double shifts, since there is a shortage of staff due to the suspension of transport services,” said Junaid Shaikh, a member of the hospital’s administration department, who stays close by and has started using his private vehicle for his work commute. “The hospital has also arranged an alternative bus service to pick up and drop off staff members staying in various suburbs. The OPDs have suspended functions till the lock-down ends and non-resident doctors are available on call. The staff is somehow managing to keep the casualty department fully operational.”

While the nationwide lock-down kicked in on Wednesday, Maharashtra had been under one since Monday, with all transport services, offices and non-emergency services being suspended. While assigned government hospitals deal with Covid-19 patients, private hospitals in the city have started finding innovative ways to remain adequately staffed to run their emergency departments.

Vehicle-pooling

Om Navjeevan Hospital at Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, has developed a coordinated vehicle pooling system for its staff. “Doctors who come in their cars coordinate with the nurses and ward boys living in their area, making stops to bring them along,” Shital Kate, a nurse in her 30s who has been with the hospital for nine years, told BusinessLine. “I stay about 4 km away from the hospital but there is no rickshaw or bus available, so the ward boy residing in my locality brings me along on his two-wheeler. Many staff members with two-wheelers are making to-and-fro trips to bring in as many staffers as possible.”

Since grocery stores are being permitted to open only at specific times of the day in the area, Shital, a mother of two, has to leave work during that time window to get essential supplies for her household, after which she resumes work.

Some hospitals in the city have resorted to making the most of the available resources to keep the hospital sufficiently staffed. “Most of our staffers reside in the areas nearby. We have started using ambulances as bus services to pick up nurses, ward boys and cleaning staff,” said middle-aged clerical staffer Nisha Joglekar, who handles the inquiry desk of Parakh Hospital in Ghatkopar.

Patients first

“The ambulances pick up staffers who stay in Ghatkopar and Chembur. Some staffers staying in Mulund and Vikhroli were travelling via select public transport before the complete lock-down was imposed, by showing their identity cards. Cleaning staffers, who do not have official identity cards, were given declaration letters by the hospital so that they’re permitted to travel. We are yet to figure out how staff staying far away will travel after the nationwide lock-down, but we will make adjustments, pull double shifts if necessary, to fulfil our duties. After all, patients cannot be neglected.” Nisha lives close to the hospital and walks to work. Kohinoor Hospital in Kurla is also using its ambulance to help its staff commute.

While most hospital staff routinely say their workplace is their second home, it has quite literally turned ‘first’ home to many of them. “The hospital has made food and accommodation arrangements for resident doctors, nurses and cleaning staff,” said 62-year-old Raghu Makwana, who is the senior telephone operator at Bhatia Hospital in Tardeo. “These are the staffers who stayed back before the total lock-down; the rest, who have no means to travel from other parts of the city, are not able to make it here. We are managing to run our emergency department with the help of these members. I stay just a walkable distance from here, so I make it a point to bring some hot tea for my colleagues every morning.”

With OPD functions mostly suspended, the city’s private hospitals have introduced resourceful measures to ensure no patient needing urgent medical help is turned down. The vital support of available resident doctors, nursing and cleaning staff and the constant on-call guidance of visiting doctors during emergencies is keeping the private healthcare system from collapsing.

Published on March 26, 2020

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