At least eleven nurses who worked at the Max Super Speciality Hospital, in Delhi’s Patparanj area, have tested positive for COVID-19. This is the second hospital promoted by Max Healthcare—one of India’s largest healthcare providers in the private sector—to develop a cluster of infections among its employees. Earlier this month, at least 39 nurses from Max’s Saket hospital—a dedicated COVID-19 centre—were sent into quarantine after a doctor, a nurse and a parademic tested positive. But more worrying have been accounts of healthcare workers employed at Max’s hospitals, which seemed to reveal a troubling irreverence by the administration towards following basic quarantine protocol for the safety of its staff.
Multiple healthcare workers told us that at both Max facilities—in Saket and Patparganj—nurses who were exposed to COVID-positive patients were allowed to return home or to their hostels, instead of being quarantined at the respective hospitals. More alarmingly, the healthcare workers said that Max did not even allow its nurses to isolate themselves for 14 days, as prescribed by the Indian Council of Medical Research and the World Health Organization. According to a healthcare worker at Max’s Saket facility who wished to remain anonymous, fearing repercussions from the hospital administration, a nurse who was supposed to be under quarantine was asked to resume duty within three days of her isolation. Similar allegations emerged from Max’s Patparganj hospital, where two healthcare workers told us—also on the condition of anonymity, fearing for their jobs—that nurses under quarantine were taken to the hospital from their hostels and asked to assist with a surgery.
These allegations are grave because not only does one of India’s leading private healthcare providers stand accused of risking the lives of nurses who are at the front line in the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic, but also those of the patients and other health workers at the hospitals. Meanwhile, Max has represented itself, in a press conference and in emails exchanged with us, as an institution that has been proactive in ensuring the safety of its healthcare workers, with widescale testing of its staff and isolation wards in its hospitals. The contrasting accounts raise several grave questions, many of which have been left unanswered by Max.