KASARAGOD: On May 11, when E K Nayanar Memorial Cooperative Hospital at Chengala was running out of oxygen, it asked its Covid patients on oxygen to find other hospitals. Kunhammali, 74, of Sanchakadav in Adoor village of Delampady panchayat was diagnosed with Covid pneumonia eight days ago and was on the road to recovery. But his cylinder had just one hour of oxygen left. His family kept hoping the hospital will get the oxygen replenished. But it did not happen, and suddenly his cylinder was out of oxygen. The hospital staff rushed and got a spare cylinder kept for emergency and hooked Kunhammali to it. “But by then his oxygen saturation level dropped to 40,” said son-in-law Latheef.
The family knew he will have to be shifted out. Latheef called Bindu A, the go-to person for the family. She is also the village officer of Adoor. She immediately called Sharief, a resident of her village. He had shifted his father to a hospital in Mangalore from Aramana Hospital. He gave her the phone number of Muneer, an ambulance driver in Chemnad village, who arranged an ICU bed in Mangla Hospital in Mangalore. But when Kunhammali was about to be discharged from the cooperative hospital, his family got a bill of Rs 90,000. “We had no clue the bill will be that much. But we did not have time to haggle and so we left for Mangalore,” said Latheef.
As the family could not raise that much amount, village officer Bindu pitched in with Rs 50,000 to settle the bill. In Mangalore, he was in the ICU for two days and died on May 13. There, the family was billed Rs 50,000. Covid is not only snatching away lives but is also leaving families reeling under a mountain of debt. Patients say private hospitals were fleecing them.Akhila Raghavan, 21, a post-graduate student in computer applications, shot off a letter to district medical officer Dr Rajan K R seeking justice because of the “unbearable” medical bills. On May 11, she tested positive for covid and was admitted to Sanjeevani Hospital at Mavungal near Kanhangad with breathing difficulties. “I went there because my father was already being treated there for Covid,” she said.After four days, she was discharged but was presented with a bill of Rs 48,200.
Her father Raghavan, who was admitted on May 8, was transferred to a hospital in Kannur because his condition deteriorated. He was diagnosed with Covid pneumonia. For his four days in the hospital, he too got a bill of around Rs 50,000, said Akhila. Akhila was actually billed Rs 50,200 but given a Rs 2,000 discount. According to the bill, the hospital charged her Rs 7,800 per day for four days for covid treatment. On top of it, the hospital billed her 20 PPE kits at Rs 950 per kit. Administration officials of several hospitals said they bought PPE kits for Rs 350. In a recent order, the Kerala government fixed the rate of PPE kit at Rs 273. For ICU beds per day, hospitals can charge Rs 7,800 (without accreditation) and Rs 8,580 (with accreditation).
Private hospitals are allowed to charge up to Rs 13,800 (without accreditation) and Rs 15,180 (with accreditation) per day for ICU with ventilators. The DMO said he would look into Akhila’s complaint.
Archana K, 38, an employee of Panathady Service Cooperative Bank, succumbed to Covid in Wenlock District Hospital in Mangaluru on May 6. On April 15, her husband Sivakumar Pothuval, 43, died of covid in Kannur Government Medical College Hospital in Pariyaram. The couple is survived by a 13-year-old daughter.
Anoop K, 43, Archana’s brother, said she was first taken to Unity Hospital in Mangaluru, where she was treated for 15 days. “I had to sign a paper agreeing to pay Rs 25,000 per day for the ICU bed before they admitted her,” he said. But in the hospital, Anoop too tested positive and was given a room without even a TV. The room rent was Rs 10,000. “So I was paying Rs 35,000 per day,” he said.
During the treatment, her oxygen saturation level never went above 85. As her condition deteriorated, the hospital asked Anoop to shift her to Wenlock Hospital. But then, they ran up a bill of Rs 3.5 lakh for 15 days. Archana was shifted in the evening of May 5 and by 1.30am on May 6, she died. “In our case, the Seva Bharati intervened and got the bill at Unity Hospital reduced,” said Anoop. Seva Bharati is an NGO affiliated with the RSS. “But that is not possible for every patient. Hospitals should not squeeze dry covid patients,” said Anoop.