As Covid cases spike, Chennai's never-ending wait for hospital beds rise

He continuously checked her oxygen saturation, which, at one point, was around 90, when he found out that there were about 20 other ambulances, with patients inside, waiting to get a bed.

Published: 06th May 2021 04:57 AM  |   Last Updated: 06th May 2021 04:57 AM   |  A+A-

Ambulances piled up outside RGGGH in Chennai as patients wait to get admission into the Corona Outpatient Department on Wednesday | de badatta adattaadatta adatta ma llic k

Express News Service

CHENNAI: Probably for the first time in Chennai’s history, government hospitals in the city are starting to feel inadequate to meet the growing needs of Covid-19 patients, who are struggling to get an admission. Sriram, 29, anxiously waited in an ambulance, holding the hand of his Covid-positive mother.

He continuously checked her oxygen saturation, which, at one point, was around 90, when he found out that there were about 20 other ambulances, with patients inside, waiting to get a bed. Then he lost hope of getting his mother admitted on time and went to the verge of breaking down.

This was the scene outside Stanley Medical College Hospital, one of the biggest tertiary hospitals in Chennai. As the second wave of the pandemic rages in Tamil Nadu, the ‘Healthcare capital of India’, its capital city, Chennai, has not been spared.

The city is struggling for beds and oxygen supply while patients are pushed to a hopeless state gasping for breath. “I came here with my 90-year-old grandmother at 11 am. It is now 4 pm and her oxygen saturation level is dipping. She has not been admitted yet and she is sitting on a chair in the outpatient ward of Stanley GH, says Suriya. 

Left to die in ambulance? ask patients as queues get longer outside hospitals

Likike Suriya’s grandmother, there are about 20 patients, waiting in ambulances to get admitted. All their caretakers and kin sit on the pavements of the hospital, desperately waiting for a bed. A 54-year-old Covid patient, who had come all the way from Thirumullaivoyal, a suburban area that is 31 kilometers away, says he has been waiting for one-and-half hours.

A Covid-19 patient, on oxygen support, waiting outside RGGGH in
Chennai to get admission on Wednesday | DEBADATTA MALLICK

“I have got no update as to when I will get the bed. My oxygen saturation is at 90,” the patient says, as his wife stands worried outside the ambulance, hoping to see staff at the hospital come out with some good news. Another patient, who had come from Avadi, says he has been waiting for three hours and couldn’t get a bed yet. “Are they leaving us to die on the ambulance itself?,” he questions. The situation is more or less the same at Omandurar GH and Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital as well, where ambulances have queued up and patients are left to wait outside.

A 33-year-old man, waiting along with his Covid-infected mother at Omandurar GH, says he came at 1 pm and could not get a bed even by 5 pm. “They are yet to communicate. We are not rich enough to afford private hospital healthcare services. Her oxygen is going below 90 and she needs a bed,” he tells Express. Police personnel posted at the RGGGH say that a patient died in the ambulance itself while waiting for admission on Tuesday. Videos of ambulances queuing up along the Poonamallee High Road has been doing rounds on social media since May 3.

Along with the the patients, the ambulance drivers also find it hard as they have been facing several hours of delay in admitting one patient. This results in a shortage of ambulances when the 108 is getting a lot of calls. Parameshwaran, an ambulance driver, waiting outside the Stanley GH with a patient from Perungalathur, says he had gone to six hospitals and finally came to Stanley as the beds were full there. “Here also we are waiting for 30 minutes now,” he said. The ambulance driver says that he ferries at least 20 patients a day, and it takes up to six hours to get admission on some occasions. “Sometimes, it takes four to six hours to get a bed. Some normally come in a very serious condition too,” he says.

Despite repeated requests, Express could not get the bed status from the health department. However, with visits to various officials, it can be understood that the beds are hundred percent full. A senior government doctor with the Omandurar tells that they have a triage centre, and only after doing that, they admit patients based on the severity of case. “We immediately admit patients with oxygen below 93. For those above 93, they go through the triage process, and if their condition is not serious, they are sent to the Covid health centers managed by the Corporation,” the doctors say.

Meanwhile, health officials maintain silence over the shortage of beds. While the Chennai Corporation had announced that it was taking steps to add 1,500 beds by May 15, it appears that the situation would be further grim by then. “The situation is indeed bad. Measures are being taken to ramp up beds with oxygen support. We sincerely request patients with mild to moderate symptoms to not come to the tertiary hospitals. They can go to the corporation health centre. This will avoid the stress on the government hospitals,” an official says.


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