COVID-19 patient’s traumatic experience in Kolkata pvt hospitals: AMRI Salt Lake refused admission, one hosp demanded exorbitant charge for “hotel” room

West Bengal chief secretary Rajiva Sinha said at a press conference after meeting representatives of private hospitals last week that they were bound to admit COVID-19 patients under the Clinical Establishment Act and no hospital with COVID-19 beds can turn down admission of such patients.

Less than a week later, a 67 year old resident of Kolkata faced a traumatic experience when he tested positive for COVID-19 and went to get himself admitted to Salt Lake AMRI Hospital on Monday evening. The patient’s friend – social worker Ranjit Sur – in a Facebook post mentioned the experience and narrated how, eventually the patient was admitted to a state-run hospital late on Monday night.

According to Sur, “The patient was tested under the supervision of a doctor from AMRI Hospital, Salt Lake. The doctor’s charge was Rs 1,150 and the test was charged at Rs 5,000. The doctor called the patient, told him he had tested positive and asked him to get admitted in the evening.”

With no ambulance available, the patient drove his own car with friends/relatives in the vehicle, but when he reached the hospital gate, they were ill-treated and shooed away, Sur mentioned in his post. “We were not allowed to step inside. We stood on the pavement while they spoke from the balcony of the upper floors,” Sur said. They asked for the patient to be identified – took a good look at him – and asked for several details. According to Sur, it appeared that they wanted to ensure that the patient could afford to foot the bill. The persons from inside the hospital – who appeared to be security personnel – said that there were no beds available. Asked why the information was not on display, the hospital authorities said that it was a private hospital where “government rules” did not apply.

At a press conference at the state administrative headquarters Nabanna on June 18, Sinha has said that all state-run and private hospitals had been asked to publicly display the number of beds available for COVID-19 patients. He had also said that the government was not fixing the charge of the COVID-19 test right now, but hospitals had been asked to review that if some laboratories could conduct the test at less than Rs 3,000 per test, why should the others not be able to do the same.

According to Rajiva Sinha, the hospitals had been asked to rationalise the bills and not charge patients for all the PPEs being used by doctors and nurses to check on the patient. But the patient Ranjit Sur mentioned had witnessed all of these instructions flouted.

With no hope for getting a bed at AMRI Salt Lake, the patient and his friends/relatives inquired about beds in other private hospitals and were told everywhere that no bed was available. “One of the private hospitals informed us that no hospital bed was available but there were beds available at a nearby hotel for which the charge was Rs 10,000 per day along with the charge for seven PPEs per day for the doctors and nurses who would come to attend the patient, apart from the treatment charge,” Sur mentioned.

The state government has recently allowed “satellite” facilities for asymptomatic patients or those with mild symptoms the possibility of staying in hotels. These patients would be checked by doctors every day, and nurses would be available all day, and the idea is to keep more beds free for serious patients. It is however clear from Sur’s narrative that the facility is being used for charging patients exorbitantly, and neither are the number of beds in hospitals being disclosed.

When the patient then went to a government hospital, he and his friends were sent to the state health department office, Swasthya Bhawan of Salt Lake saying a clearance was required from government officials for admission in state-run hospital. There, the officials checked the patient’s details and were told that the report was not available on the website, and asked them to go to back to AMRI Hospital to ask them to upload the report on the ICMR website. At around 9.30 pm, the patient headed for AMRI Hospital again, and late in the night, the patient could be admitted to a state-run hospital.

According to an official of AMRI Salt Lake, the matter is being inquired into. [We will update this report when details of AMRI’s statements are available.]

On May 10, historian Hari Sankar Vasudevan died at AMRI Hospital, Salt Lake. On June 10, Vasudevan’s wife historian Tapati Guha Thakurta mentioned that though her husband had no comorbidities, such reports were published in the media following his death and said that “this false information was being peddled by AMRI hospital makes it particularly dangerous and reprehensible”.  “I have not received any proper report about what happened to Hari during his five terrible days in the AMRI Salt Lake Covid unit, where I dropped him off in our own car on the night of 4th May, a still alert, walking and talking person whom I would never see again,” she had written.

Also read: Absolute & dangerous untruth: Tapati Guha Thakurta says she is shocked at the misinformation about the cause of husband Hari Sankar Vasudevan’s death

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