Hyderabad: J Suresh Babu, 55, was admitted to one of the private hospitals at Ramachandrapuram in the city. Within days, his family exhausted all savings on his treatment. His 25-year-old son put out an appeal for funds on different websites but to no avail.
Unable to bear treatment cost, the family decided to shift Suresh Babu to a government hospital. They contacted Sai Charan Chikkulla, a volunteer working for COVID relief. He rang up different hospitals for ventilator beds, but to no avail.
After a lot of persuasion, Fever Hospital agreed to admit the patient whose oxygen saturation was 85. "As the patient was on a ventilator, he was able to maintain the oxygen saturation at 85. So Fever Hospital said he will be put on an Oxygen bed," said Sai Charan.
However, while shifting, his oxygen saturation dropped from 85 to 45. "The fever hospital told us that they can't admit him as his saturation has dropped to 45 and he needs to be put on ventilator," said Sai Charan.
Later, the family took the patient to Gandhi Hospital where they were told that 10-12 patients are already waiting for ventilator beds. Suresh Babu waited for an hour outside the Gandhi Hospital a day after the Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao visited the facility. He died waiting for a ventilator bed.
A day after Suresh Babu died, the Union Minister of State for Home Affairs G Kishan Reddy in a press release said that the Central Government has provided 1405 ventilators to the Telangana government under the PM Cares fund.
"G Kishan Reddy said Centre has provided ventilators. Telangana government said they too have ventilators. Why are the people not getting the ventilators then? Why are people dying without ventilators in ambulances? Have these ventilators been installed? Are they in working condition? Did any of these ministers check on it?" asked Sai Charan.
Are ventilators in the hospitals, and working?
NewsMeter investigation revealed that as per the list provided by G Kishan Reddy, 100 ventilators were provided to the MGM Hospital in Warangal. But, as per the Telangana Health Department Dashboard, only 80 ventilator beds are functional.
Similarly, four ventilators were provided to the Government Area Hospital, Miriyalguda, and three ventilators to Government Area Hospital, Nagarjuna Sagar. But as per the Telangana Health Department Dashboard, not a single ventilator bed is available.
As per G Kishan Reddy, around 295 ventilators were given to the Gandhi Hospital and 25 to Area Hospital, Kondapur. As per the dashboard, a total of 619 ventilator beds are available at Gandhi hospital and 38 in Area Hospital, Kondapur.
"We don't know how many total ventilators are working. These are not of good quality and there are different issues with ventilators. The engineers are not servicing the machines on time. Once in a while, they repair, but they again develop snag within days. Some of the ventilators are not operational because of technical glitches," said Dr Sasidhar, President, Junior Doctors Association at Gandhi Hospital.
He added that after the surge in COVID 19 cases, the entire Gandhi Hospital has been turned into an ICU, and every ward has a ventilator. "There is a shortage of staff as more patients are getting admitted. Initially, there were 200 ICU beds. Now there are 600 ventilators and the staff remains the same. We got help from senior resident doctors. But to run the ventilators, we need a proper number staff. Somehow we are managing with the same number of doctors," said Dr. Sasidhar.
In Area Hospital, Kondapur, as per the Government Dashboard, there are 38 ventilator beds. According to Medical Superintendent Dr Manchinella Dasaratha, only 28 ventilators are working and they are managing with BiPAP service. "Some ventilators have technical issues. Three ventilators need to be serviced and we are waiting for engineers to fix the machines," said Dr. Dasarath.
He added that there are only two anesthesia staff working in the hospital. "We need two anesthesia staff for each shift," said Dr. Dasarath.
What about ventilators in rural areas?
Union Minister G Kishan Reddy said they have also provided ventilators to those hospitals which had none earlier. As per the Union Minister, the Centre has provided four ventilators to Area Hospital, Bodhan in Nizamabad district. Nizamabad is the worst affected rural district in Telangana.
"Because of the technical issues, we cannot operator ventilators. For the ventilation, we need a three-way outlet. A manifold for ventilation is not there. We are operating only Bipap and CPAP. We have an anesthetist who can run the ventilator," said Dr Annapurna, Superintendent of Area Hospital Bodhan.
As per Kishan Reddy, six ventilators were provided to the Government Hospital Huzurabad. "Technically we are not COVID hospital. Jammikunta, which is just 10 kilometers from here, is a dedicated COVID hospital. We are treating non- COVID patients. Soon we will start treating COVID 19 patients," said Dr. Ramesh Bhukya of Area Hospital, Huzurabad.
It is pertinent to note that former Health Minister, Eatala Rajender represents Huzurabad in the Assembly.
Meanwhile, after the lockdown, requests for ventilators in private hospitals have gone down, while ventilator demand at government hospitals has gone up.
"Due to financial problems, many families are shifting patients to government hospitals. But there is no ventilator bed available in government hospitals. The ministers can do PR about ventilators, but not when people are dying," said Sai Charan.