COVID-19: In Mumbai, hospitals turn away patients; real-time tracking of beds ineffective

31 May 2020
A Mumbai hospital denied Vinayak Jadhav admission for the lack of a COVID-19 test result.
A Mumbai hospital denied Vinayak Jadhav admission for the lack of a COVID-19 test result.

Around noon on 12 May, Vinayak Jadhav, a resident of Mumbai’s Chembur neighbourhood and an 80-year old former banker, felt feverish and uneasy. At first, his family did not suspect that he had been affected by the novel coronavirus. He had barely stepped out of his home since the lockdown, except for a visit to an ATM ten days earlier.                                                                       

Viren, his son, took him to a nearby clinic run by Vishal Chopra, a diabetologist. Chopra, who is also attached to the Dr LH Hiranandani Hospital in Powai, asked Viren to rush him to the hospital directly. According to Viren, a doctor at the hospital asked Vinayak to undergo a COVID-19 test before they agreed to admit him.

“My immediate concern was that he should be admitted to the hospital so that they can start the treatment,” Viren told me. “Since he’s an octogenarian, I didn’t want to take any risk.”
But the hospital asked Viren to take his father home and come back once the result returned. “They told me it would take 48 hours,” Viren said.

This was a violation of Maharashtra government orders. As reported in the Indian Express, several government notifications make it mandatory for hospitals to treat patients even if a COVID-19 test result is pending. The government asked hospitals to create a waiting area for suspected COVID-19 patients and provide them treatment. It warned them of action under Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 if they failed to comply. An 30 April government notification stated, “No patient is to be turned away without examination and required intervention under any circumstances.”

Vinayak’s test results arrived on May 14—he had tested positive. However, by then, the Hiranandani Hospital had run out of beds. “We panicked and began searching for all nearby hospitals through friends and contacts. Almost every other hospital, Fortis, Nanavati and Breach Candy, was full. At 8.30 pm, we were told about possible vacancies in SevenHills and Nanavati. We opted for SevenHills for its proximity.”

Anto T Joseph is a Mumbai-based senior journalist and a British Chevening Scholar. He has worked with DNA, the Economic Times, The Guardian (UK) and the Deccan Chronicle Group as a writer, editor and columnist.

Keywords: COVID-19 coronavirus Mumbai Maharashtra public health