CHENNAI: The second wave of the pandemic may have revealed the severe incapacities of our healthcare system, but it’s also brought out the resourcefulness among the army of citizen volunteers that seemed to have come into being overnight. While we’ve had many doing what little they can to connect the resources to those in need, be in ICU beds, doses of Remdesivir or a meal package, Kadamai Education and Social Welfare Trust put its resources into running autorickshaw ambulances to aid people looking for a means to get to the hospital. With the availability of this life-saving element getting difficult every day, this service has been all the more crucial.
It all started with blood donation drives since the start of the pandemic last year. Since then, the Trust has organised five major drives, besides donating whenever they are called upon. Seeing the increasing need for medical facilities, the Trust set up a free clinic in Tondiarpet last September. Taking this measure a step further, they purchased an autorickshaw and fitted it with an oxygen cylinder — all set to transport even the most dire patients to the hospital. But, even they didn’t expect that the situation would get so grave and so quickly. “We thought it would come in handy in an emergency. Because not every patient has been able to get an ambulance right? So, we were taking them to the hospital, offering scan services and such. But, we didn’t realise there would be such a shortage of oxygen. Since we already had this arranged, we can help,” narrates Vasanthakumar, founder and secretary of the Trust.
Despite their best intentions, they are barely able to attend to 10 per cent of requests every day, he says. “We get around 150-200 calls daily. We are having to prioritise based on area, age and severity because we can’t serve them all. For the first request, I rode the auto myself. Then, our treasurer Sathyaraj stepped in to relieve me. Slowly, a few people volunteered to do the job. Now, we’ve added a second auto but even that has not helped. We have the means to add more autos and fit them with cylinders but we are not able to get oxygen either,” he explains.
Even the set-up for the second auto didn’t come easily. The flow meter that usually costs Rs 1,500 had to be purchased for Rs 15,000, says Vasanthakumar, increasing the hurdles in the way. While they had planned to just serve the people of Tondiarpet, RK Nagar and Royapuram, now, the Trust gets calls from across the city. There’s a team of five-six people working the phones — taking in requests, keeping a tab on oxygen inquiries, looking up the availability of beds and connecting the auto ambulance to the place of need. They are also working to ensure the ambulance gets the next refill of oxygen to keep up the services. Since the inception, they have had to refill four times and it’s been a struggle every time, he says.
While all this may be a lot of work, it’s familiar territory for the Trust. For over six years now, be it creating employment opportunities for women from underprivileged communities, running training workshops for students and job seekers or arranging for medical aid in deprived regions of the city, they have worked hand-in-hand with the people in need. When the pandemic hit, too, it was just a matter of preparing for the community around them. That’s why, despite the enormous costs of the operation, they refuse to charge the patient they are transporting. “People do offer to pay but we don’t accept it. We decided to do it as a service and that’s how it will be, whether the patient can afford it or not. There are people, mindful of the work, who step in and donate; we take that to fuel the service. We haven’t received much but we will keep doing this for as long as we can,” assures Vasanthakumar.The Trust would appreciate donations or volunteers who can help with the back-end work.