The management of Delhi’s Vallabhbhai Patel Chest Institute hospital did not assist or ensure timely treatment for employees who contracted COVID-19, according to staffers. The ministry of health funds the hospital and the University of Delhi maintains it. The VPCI caters to patients with chest diseases. It is not a designated COVID-19 hospital but tests COVID-19 samples. Patients with COVID-19 symptoms were admitted to the hospital, several of whom later tested positive, according to employees. Staffers—including contractual employees—their families and residents of the hospital’s staff quarters told me the management violated safety protocols that led to the virus spread. They told me that the hospital refused to provide ambulances, beds or assistance. Families of two of the four staffers who died from COVID-19 said they struggled to get compensated as well.
All employees spoke to me on the condition of anonymity, fearing retaliation from the hospital. The hospital’s management did not respond to emailed queries about the allegations.
Staffers expressed that they were hurt because the hospital had put its employees at risk by treating COVID-19 patients—knowingly or unknowingly—but refused to help staff who might have contracted the disease from these patients. A contractual worker in his thirties, who often works in the hospital’s ICU, told me on 18 June, “Even now, we get only five N95 masks for 20 days. One big reason for infections is that we don’t get a change of masks regularly. They ask us to wash and reuse it.” He tested positive for the virus during the second wave. “I was in a private hospital for eight days and I did not receive any call from the hospital to check on me,” the contractual worker said.
A senior nurse at the VPCI said that there was a time lag of three or four days in shifting patients with COVID-19 symptoms to hospitals designated to treat them. She told me this increased the risk of infection among their direct contacts: the staff and other patients. “In the name of waiting for the results of RT-PCR tests, positive patients are kept in the emergency ward for up to four days,” the senior nurse told me. She said patients who may have COVID-19 were being nebulised in proximity with others, even though the virus “spreads through aerosols.”
According to the senior nurse, when COVID-positive staff approach the hospital for help, “they say that ‘we cannot admit you here since this is a non-COVID hospital.’ Why are they keeping positive patients here then? During the peak of the oxygen crisis, our staff died.” She told me she had a first-hand experience of this apathy when she contracted COVID-19 in April. The senior nurse said her condition was critical eight days later. “I was in a terrible state,” she recalled. “I needed a bed urgently.” She said the VPCI refused to admit her. “Since I did not get admission anywhere, I opted for teleconsultation with doctors from outside and underwent treatment at home,” the senior nurse said.
Five members of her family subsequently tested positive. The senior nurse said she resided in the VPCI’s staff quarters, which housed 10 families. According to her, the virus spread among other families as the management did not provide quarantine facilities to the staffers. “Seven out of 10 families who live here had COVID cases. And yet it was not declared as a containment zone, nor was it sanitised,” she told me.
A frontline worker in her forties told me about a patient who was admitted to the hospital in April. The frontline worker said that the patient tested positive during her stay at the VPCI, but there was a delay in shifting her to a COVID facility. She said this was a “VIP patient”—the frontline worker and the senior nurse both told me the patient had close connections to the management.
The frontline worker in her forties said she tested positive for COVID-19 on 10 April. A week later, her condition became critical, with symptoms of breathlessness. She said she arrived at VPCI for an X-ray and two blood tests. “They refused to do the tests because I was positive. They do it for positive patients but refuse the same for the staff,” the frontline worker told me. She said that when she protested, the VPCI staff agreed to conduct the X-ray and one of the two blood tests. “I did not understand why they would not do the other test as well,” she added. She said she eventually recovered after receiving treatment at the Hindu Rao Hospital in Delhi.