The Wire Impact: Thane Hospital Doctors Finally Get Protective Gear

The Wire’s correspondent had been warned against publishing her report and threatened with a case under the Epidemic Diseases Act.

Kalyan, Thane: A day after The Wire reported on how doctors at the Kalyan Dombivli Municipal Corporation were forced to handle COVID-19 patients without any protective gear, the corporation has finally made protective gear available to them.

On March 27, this correspondent visited the two corporation-run hospitals — Rukmini Bai and Shastri Nagar. The visit led to a detailed report on the precarious conditions in which the doctors here were forced to work under. A day later, on March 28, the corporation provided a set of two protective kits each, including masks, gloves, overalls, and gowns to its staff working at the twin hospitals.

The protection gear, however, has been made available only at the two hospitals and the nearly 15 peripheral centres have been asked to continue their work without the gear. The personal protection equipment (PPE) provided includes gloves, masks, and a gown.

On March 27, The Wire’s report had quoted several doctors and other healthcare staff who had expressed their fear of getting infected because of a lack of basic protective gear. The corporation had been forcing doctors at the corporation hospitals to attend to patients only wearing a flimsy reusable cloth mask.

Also read: Ground Report: The Medics Modi Asked Us to Cheer Are Handling COVID-19 Patients Unprotected

The twin cities — Kalyan and Dombivli — have eight people who have been confirmed to have been affected with COVID-19. Of them, six had walked into the two hospitals here before being referred to Kasturba Hospital in Mumbai. The doctors, ward boys and other medical staff at the two hospitals had attended to each of these patients without any protection.

It took fewer than 24 hours for the municipal corporation to make the protective gear available to the doctors. “They clearly had the stock available. On Saturday morning, the chief medical officer Dr. Ashwini Patil informed the doctors on duty that the protection gear had been kept stored in case the pandemic enters into stage 3. Reluctantly, the protective gear was made available to us,” he said. Patil has claimed that only 200 kits were available with the corporation.

Another doctor claimed that they have been forced to sign an agreement that they would make do with just one or two kits. “Since we had no choice, and are desperate to save ourselves, we have agreed,” a doctor told The Wire.

Most doctors that The Wire had spoken to had said that they were even willing to buy these gears on their own but weren’t able to find enough supply in the market.

The two hospitals alone with their peripheral units have been catering to a population of over 25 lakhs. These hospitals have forever faced a staff crunch and those on duty have complained of overburden and lack of basic facilities. In 2017, as many as nine doctors had mass resigned from their posts as the corporation was not making any efforts to ease their burden. “We were given a fake assurance and asked to return to work. Nothing changed,” a doctor at the hospital’s peripheral unit disclosed.

Any doctor raising her voice or seeking an explanation from the hospital authorities is being served a memo. A senior doctor at the center shared that at least two doctors were served a notice in the past two weeks since the pandemic broke out.

Similar tactics were used to stop the publication of this report too.

When this correspondent had approached the officials to get their version, she was told that she could be booked under the Epidemic Diseases Act. “Such stories can lead to panic. Action can be taken for publishing such news,” Dr. Sandeep Nimbalkar, a reproductive and child health (RCH) officer with the municipal corporation had warned.

While the corporation should have a minimum of 135 doctors, only 35 have been working here for close to a decade. Among them, several Ayurveda doctors have been taken on board, and they because of their lack of adequate qualifications, they do not get assigned duties at the outpatient department and casualty ward.