Three hours in an understaffed Bharuch hospital with dying COVID-19 patients

17 April 2021
Paramedical staff conducting ECG on a COVID-19 patient at the General Hospital in Bharuch, Gujarat.
Shahid Tantray for The Caravan
Paramedical staff conducting ECG on a COVID-19 patient at the General Hospital in Bharuch, Gujarat.
Shahid Tantray for The Caravan

Bharuch General Hospital is the largest government-run COVID-19 care center in Gujarat’s Bharuch district. It has 70 beds, most of which are attached to oxygen supply. On 16 April, there was only one doctor at the hospital—a 26-year-old junior resident—and five nurses. That day, the hospital had seventy-two patients, almost all of whom had severe COVID-19 symptoms. The hospital staff told me that all private hospitals in the district were fully occupied, leaving the general hospital stretched over its capacity despite limited human resources. “On most days, there are at least two doctors attending to patients in one shift, but the past few days it has only been me,” the junior resident said as he shuttled between wards checking on patients’ vitals and adjusting their oxygen flow.

In one ward, an elderly woman suspected of having COVID-19 was fiddling with a dial attached to her oxygen mask. “The patients here are so advanced they can change their oxygen inflow setting on their own,” the junior resident said. He bent down and whispered to the woman in Gujarati asking her to stop fiddling with the dial and placed the mask back firmly onto her face. “This is how some of them die as well, trying to fix their oxygen setting on their own. If we had more staff, we could monitor them closely, save more lives.”

Bharuch, located on the banks of the Narmada river between the cities of Surat and Vadodara, is one of the most industrialised towns in Gujarat. As of 16 April, Bharuch district’s official record showed cumulative numbers of 463 COVID-19 cases and 38 deaths. According to data uploaded on a government website, there were 1,613 beds across more than 40 hospitals in Bharuch district reserved for COVID-19 patients. On 16 April, the website showed 576 available beds. However, relatives of patients admitted at the general hospital told me that they had spent hours, often even days trying to find beds with oxygen supply before coming to the general hospital. In Jambusar taluk, only the Al-Mahmood Hospital, which is a private hospital with 90 beds was treating COVID-19 patients.

COVID-19 patients at the General Hospital in Bharuch, Gujarat which is the largest government-run COVID-19 centre in the district.. Shahid Tantray for The Caravan COVID-19 patients at the General Hospital in Bharuch, Gujarat which is the largest government-run COVID-19 centre in the district.. Shahid Tantray for The Caravan
COVID-19 patients at the General Hospital in Bharuch, Gujarat which is the largest government-run COVID-19 centre in the district.
Shahid Tantray for The Caravan

MD Modiya, the Bharuch district collector, claimed that there are more than enough beds in the district to treat COVID-19 patients. “Further, we are working towards enhancing our capacity. We are turning the girls engineering college to a 400-bed COVID-19 care center and adding a 100 more beds as well as additional oxygen piping to the general hospital,” says Modiya. As for addition healthcare staff, the collector told me that he had circulated a recruitment advertisement for doctors last week, and hoped that more staff members will be hired soon. “For now, we have enough resources, but if the patient load keeps increasing at this rate, I am not sure if we will have enough beds in the future.”

Chahat Rana is a reporting fellow at The Caravan. 

Keywords: coronavirus COVID-19 Gujarat oxygen
COMMENT