KASARAGOD: Oxygen crisis has hit Kasaragod and private hospitals treating COVID patients are running around for cylinders. Private hospitals said their patients are surviving on an hour-to-hour basis with zero buffer stock.
On Sunday, Kasaragod Institute of Medical Sciences (KIMS) -- which has the highest intake of Covid patients among private hospitals -- had to send a vehicle to the Balco Air Product unit in Kannur to get 20 D cylinders. The hospital's daily need is 45 D cylinders, each with a capacity of 7,600 litres of liquid oxygen.
Late in the night, the hospital sent another vehicle to get the life-saving oxygen to the unit, 80km away. "There was a long queue when we reached the plant at 12.30 am," said A V Krishnan, manager of KIMS. "By the time the vehicle returned to the hospital at 5.40 am, we just had oxygen left for 10 more minutes," he said Monday morning. It was touch-and-go for nine patients on oxygen support.
The unfortunate part was, he said, the hospital got only 20 cylinders. "So we will be on the edge today also. There should be a solution," said Krishan. The daily oxygen requirement for KIMS has risen to 45 cylinders from 20 cylinders, he said.
Across the district, private hospitals need around 110 cylinders and government hospitals need around 160 cylinders every day, said officials of the Health Department. In the pre-COVID days, the district needed around 250 cylinders just once in two weeks, they said.
The Balco unit is stretched as it is catering to the increased demand from Kozhikode and Kannur district. The crisis in Kasaragod is aggravated by the shortage of oxygen in Dakshina Kannada -- Kasaragod's neighbouring district in Karnataka.
Dakshina Kannada's top administrative officer K V Rajendra said medical oxygen can be supplied to hospitals in Kasaragod only if the request is authorised by his counterpart collector D Sajith Babu.
Binoy Nambiar, the oxygen nodal officer for Dakshina Kannada, said the restriction was required to prevent the diversion of oxygen to industries.
In the pre-COVID days, 70% of oxygen supplied to Kasaragod from the two filling stations at Baikampady in Mangaluru were used for industries. "Now we don't have oxygen for industrial use," Nambiar said.
The nodal officer said Dakshina Kannada is also facing a shortage of medical oxygen because Inox Air Products, a private plant at Kanjikode in Palakkad, stopped supplying oxygen to Dakshina Kannada two weeks ago. Inox used to supply 10,000 litres of liquid oxygen to Mangaluru every day.
Dakshina Kannada -- with six medical colleges -- needs around 25,000 litres of liquid oxygen daily. "We get oxygen now from a unit in Bellary but there is a shortage of 1,200 litres daily," said Nambiar.
He, however, said Kasaragod hospitals would get oxygen if they came with the collector's letter.
But the ground reality is different. MLAs N A Nellikkunnu, C H Kunhambu, and A K M Ashraf wrote to Dakshina Kannada deputy commissioner to not stop medical oxygen to hospitals in Kasaragod.
Collector Sajith Babu wrote to his counterpart asking for oxygen for nine hospitals in Kasaragod. In his letter, he said KIMS Hospital will require 45 D cylinders, up from 20 D cylinders; Malik Deena Hospital will need 40 D cylinders, up from 20, and Mangalpady Taluk Hospital will need 5 B cylinders, up from two cylinders.
The demand for the other six hospitals -- Chaitra Hospital, United Hospital, Mallya City Hospital, Doctors Hospital Kumbla, Udma Nursing Home, and Cooperative Hospital -- remains 1D cylinder each.
Despite the letter of authorisation, the hospitals are not getting cylinders from Mangaluru simply because there is no oxygen at the refilling stations. Malabar Oxygen Company Private Limited at Baikampady in the northern part of Mangaluru reportedly told KIMS it did not have oxygen to supply to Kasaragod.
Private hospitals in Kasaragod said they are now solely dependent on BALCO at Taliparamba. "But the unit was shut till 3.30 pm on Sunday for some repair work," said Krishnan, the manager of KIMS.
According to the state government's rule, private hospitals should set aside 10% of their beds for Covid patients. But KIMS and Carewell, another private hospital, have more patients than the government-mandated numbers.
Private hospitals said they would not be able to admit Covid patients if they were not assured of medical oxygen supply. "Because the condition of Covid patients can slip any time," he said.