At 44-year-old Umesh Tamaichi’s home in Kubernagar, shock has overcome grief. The lawyer at Ahmedabad Metropolitan Court was six feet tall, a fitness freak, with no history of any ailment. He died of Covid-19 on the morning of May 16 at the Ahmedabad Civil Hospital but the family got to know about it only by evening.
“My brother died in the morning and we received a call from someone in the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation in the evening asking us to check saying that ‘he might be dead’. When we checked at the hospital, they confirmed his death,” said Kalpana Gagdekar, Umesh’s sister.
When the family members questioned why they were not informed, the authorities said the hospital had tried to reach them on the mobile number provided but failed to connect, says Gagdekar.
This has become the common reason given out by Gujarat’s biggest Covid hospital for the delayed reporting of deaths of patients to relatives.
Tamaichi’s mobile phone and watch were missing, about which there was no response from the hospital. The family filed a complaint of theft on May 18 at the Shahibaug police station.
Officer on special duty (OSD) of the hospital, Dr MM Prabhakar, told this paper on Thursday that a system had been put in place to keep relatives in the loop about the death of Covid patients. Till then, there were several complaints about the hospital not passing on timely information to the relatives.
Kishore Shah (64) was rushed to Civil Hospital trauma centre on May 13 after he reported oxygen saturation level at 55 per cent and low blood pressure at a private clinic. Three days later, he died. Sagar (30), Kishore’s son says, “From the trauma centre, he was taken to the 1,200-bed Covid hospital. They made us wait till 6 pm since morning and then said he will be admitted at GCRI (Gujarat Cancer Research Institute, also a Covid hospital). No one told us whether he was Covid-19 positive or not, no one even let us stay at GCRI, no doctor spoke to us either on what was wrong with him.”
The next morning, Kishore gave a fresh set of clothes and his father’s mobile phone at the reception, and yet was not told what was the diagnosis. “I don’t think the phone was given to him because no one responded on it. On May 16, at 9.30 am, I called the ICU ward phone number that was provided by a contact and I was told he was on ventilator support. At around 11 am, our contact told us he had died. Since May 13, we received absolutely no official update on his health status from the hospital, not even when he died. It was only because I knew someone that I got to know.”
“He stayed without food for the whole of May 13, as we waited for him to be admitted. It was when we went to get his body that we were told he was Covid-positive but no report or details of treatment was given to us. We got his body without much delay only after intervention from our MLA Imran Khedawala. The gold jewellery he was wearing and the money he was carrying were missing. There was no response from the hospital on this so we filed a complaint with Shahibaug police station on May 18,” said Sagar.
Azharuddin Shaikh, a resident of Rakhiyal, a containment zone, who lost his 75-year-old father on May 12, said, “As per the hospital records, my father died at 4.30 am, while we received a call six hours later. The family is put through trauma, first because of this delay and then running from pillar to post for “claiming the body”. Shaikh could finally take his father for burial at 1 am on May 13.
Worried about his mother and elder brother who also tested positive for Covid-19 and are currently at the same hospital, Shaikh said that there is no communication from the hospital authorities about their condition.
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OSD Prabhakar says, “We have received complaints. There wasn’t a proper system in place till now, which has now been done. Today Pankaj Kumar (bureaucrat overseeing overall Covid-19 operations in Gujarat) gave us 30 people and four phones to communicate with relatives. The team will ensure that the treating doctor informs the control room about the death and the control room then informs the relative. We will keep a register to record the valuables of a patient at the time of admission. We won’t allow anything other than mobile phone and send other items with the relative.”
The relatives of textile worker Ganpat Makwana (67) who was taken to Civil Hospital on May 10, and found dead at the Dani Limda bus stop, got to know only from the AMC medical bulletin that he had tested positive for Covid. The family leant about his death when they were called to identify an unclaimed body on May 15. The government has set up an inquiry under former health commissioner JP Gupta, who is yet to submit his report.
Before Makwana, the family of a cancer patient from Porbandar, had complained that they learnt about his death six days later. Neeraj Birdun of Porbandar had been accompanying his 54-year-old father Pravin (54) to GCRI for chemotherapy for four months. On May 4, he was taken to the Covid hospital for testing and on May 7, Neeraj was told he tested negative. There was no other update, so he sought intervention of Congress leader Arjun Modhwadia who took up the matter on May 13.
“In a couple of hours, we received a call saying he died on May 8 itself, that too, not from any official channel of the hospital, but through a contact of Arjunbhai. When I went to the hospital on May 13, they did not even give back the cancer file, nor did they give us any copy of the Covid report or a death certificate yet. They said they will give them in 10-12 days,” Birdun told this paper.
Dr Chirag Patel, who handles the triaging area for emergency area of Covid hospital, said, “We have expanded our earlier eight-bed triage area to 16 beds. Our wards are full but we are still taking all critical patients… We assess existing patients who can be shifted to GCRI or IKDRC (to make space for new critical patients) and it may take up to three hours to stabilise a patient.”
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