The Government Medical College—a premier hospital that caters to the whole of the Jammu division of Jammu and Kashmir—has been in disarray for the last few months. The hospital, located in Jammu city, has had severe deficiencies in infrastructure and manpower shortages even as COVID-19 cases in the division, which comprises ten districts, surged in September. The situation at the GMC is a reflection of the UT administration’s lack of preparedness for the novel coronavirus pandemic.
According to official data, 35,246 people were infected and 457 people had died of COVID-19 in the Jammu division till 18 October. Of these, 26,710 cases and 394 deaths had occurred since the beginning of September. The region witnessed this sharp rise in infections after the UT’s lockdown was lifted in August and the surge left ill-equipped and understaffed government hospitals buckling under the patient load. For instance, many smaller hospitals have been unable to install ventilators. The GMC itself has had to deal with staff falling ill with the disease, doctors reluctant to treat COVID-19 patients, bureaucratic interference, inadequate oxygen storage and disruption in oxygen supply.
Fifty-five-year old Bindi Bhat died at the GMC in the early hours of 23 September. According to her brother-in-law Ramesh Bhat, centralised oxygen supply suddenly stopped working in the hospital’s emergency ward. He said that he saw COVID-19 patients in beds near Bindi’s collapse within minutes of each other. Her family members ran to find doctors that could help. “It took us ten minutes to wake up a nursing orderly,” Ramesh said. “There was no other medical staff member around.” He said that Bindi died even as she watched her oxygen levels plummet on an oximeter and pleaded for someone to save her.