Private hospitals scramble for oxygen, Covid patients left in the lurch in Kasaragod

At least 3 hospitals made to beg for cylinders to save lives of patients on O2 support; nearly none have buffer stock

Published: 12th May 2021 06:02 AM  |   Last Updated: 12th May 2021 11:23 AM   |  A+A-

oxygen crisis

For representational purposes (Express Illustrations)

Express News Service

KASARGOD: Kunammali, 74, diagnosed with Covid pneumonia, was on the road to recovery. For the past seven days, he was admitted to the E K Nayanar Cooperative Hospital at Chengala. But on Tuesday, the hospital dropped a bomb on his family. “They (hospital) asked us to shift him to some other hospital. He is recovering. He has recovered 85%,” says his distraught son-in-law Latheef. 

All Kunammali of Sanchakadav in Adoor needs to recover fully is a steady supply of oxygen and that is what the hospital does not have. E K Nayanar Hospital has 12 patients on oxygen support. “We have asked all of them to find other hospitals with assured supply of oxygen,” said a senior staffer. The hospital needs 75 oxygen cylinders daily but got only 15 cylinders around 3.30 am on Tuesday. “Our vehicle left for Kannur to bring oxygen cylinders yesterday evening and returned with just 15 cylinders at 3.30 am,” she said.

All the 15 cylinders the hospitals got are hooked to patients. “Once the cylinders run out of oxygen we do not have a replacement. That is why we have asked the patients to move out,” she said Tuesday afternoon. The hospital said it was sending another vehicle to Kannur to get oxygen Tuesday evening but did not know when it will return.

Scramble for cylinders

The private hospitals in Kasaragod district are in the midst of a serious oxygen crisis, with at least three hospitals made to beg for oxygen cylinders to save the lives of their patients on oxygen support. Almost all hospitals are running with zero buffer stock.

“Doctors should be investing their time in treating patients but here we are spending most of our time working our phones to get oxygen. My administrative officer and I stay awake even at 3am, trying to get oxygen,” said the director of a top private hospital in Kasaragod. Aramana Hospital, with seven Covid patients and one non-Covid patient on oxygen support, had an edgy day. With just one hour of oxygen left, the hospital staffers were forced to make frantic calls to the collector, district medical officer, and MLAs for oxygen. 

The crisis started Monday night. Oxygen nodal officer of the district Dr A T Manoj said he arranged four cylinders from Krishna Hospital for Aramana. But the cylinders started depleting with no sign of replenishment.

Anil Nair, administrative officer of Aramana Hospital, said he tried to reach out to the collector but he was not given an audience. “I went to meet him to get an authorisation letter so that we can bring oxygen from Mangaluru. He kept us waiting for two hours and then a security officer said he was busy,” said Nair.The district administration of Dakshina Kannada has made the collector’s authorisation letter mandatory to supply oxygen. But hospitals in Kasaragod said they were not getting oxygen even with the collector’s letter. 

After hours of haggling, Aramana Hospital, was told by Balco Air Products — the refilling unit at Parassinikadavu in Kannur — would supply 10 cylinders by 7.30pm on Tuesday. But the cylinders never came. The hospital arranged one cylinder from an ambulance, one from KIMS in Kasaragod and four cylinders from another private hospital in Kanhangad. But three of the eight patients on oxygen support moved to hospitals in Kozhikode and Kannur.

Carewell Nursing Home, with 14 patients on oxygen support, said it was running on an hour-to-hour basis. “We need 16 cylinders every day. The Mangaluru refilling agent has stopped supplying. Now we get from Balco in Kannur. But we are running with zero buffer stock,” he said. Earlier, the hospital used to have 20 cylinders as buffer stock.

On Monday, KIMS, Kasaragod, got 10 cylinders just 10 minutes before it ran out of oxygen. Today, the district administration has assured it 19 cylinders. “They have taken the empty cylinders. We are waiting for oxygen,” said KIMS manager A V Krishnan.Kasaragod MLA N A Nellikkunnu wrote to the chief minister seeking his urgent intervention on the matter.

Government hospitals need around 180 bulk cylinders every day. “We can manage,” said oxygen nodal officer Dr A T Manoj. He said private hospitals should judiciously use oxygen which is in short supply. They should also promptly apply for cylinders on the Jagratha portal. The problem is Balco — the only refilling unit in Kannur — supplies oxygen to Kannur, Kozhikode, Wayanad, and Kasaragod districts. Its capacity is 300 cylinders per day but it is dispatching up to 600. Hospitals wait for hours before getting cylinders, and the drive back takes more than two hours.

Last month, the Corona Core Committee decided to set up 1,000 oxygen beds in Kasaragod.

"That plan has been shelved because of lack of oxygen," said an official. He said 40 oxygen beds in Tata Trust Hospital and 20 oxygen beds in the District Hospital are not being used.


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