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Is Struggle for ICU Beds and Ventilators in Kerala Real Now?

Several families also alleged confusion and a lack of coordination over bed allotment at hospitals in Kerala.

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Desperation in Kerala as kin of COVID-19 patients hunt for ICU, ventilator beds  
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Weeks ago when reports of people running around desperately for hospital beds to treat their family members who had COVID-19 surfaced from multiple states in the country, residents in Kerala kept faith. The state’s health infrastructure was not yet overwhelmed. But with COVID-19 cases in Kerala rising sharply, the struggle for hospital beds - in particular ICU and ventilator beds - is now real.

The family of Ernakulam resident EJ Yesudas is still in shock over his sudden demise. On Wednesday night, 50-year-old Yesudas, who was also suffering from renal ailments, died just three hours after finally getting a ventilator bed at a Kochi hospital.

His desperate family spent hours looking for an unoccupied ventilator bed in Kochi so they could save Yesudas. It was after much struggle and several hours of delay that they finally found a bed.
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“He was under treatment at a private hospital in Kochi, but they did not have advanced facilities. On Wednesday morning, the doctors there asked us to shift him to a better hospital with ventilator support. We approached all the major hospitals in Kochi and even the Government Medical College in the district, all of them said they did not have any beds free. By the time we got an unoccupied ventilator bed, that too with the intervention of an MLA, it was 7 pm. But the same night, he passed away. He could have been saved if we were able to give him critical care on time,” said Anu, a relative of Yesudas.

Anu said that the family had sought help from the district helpline facilities in Ernakulam. Help in the form of the bed, however, arrived too late. “By that time, we got him admitted to another hospital,” Anu said.

The Kerala government on Friday ordered hospitals – both private and government - to set aside 50 percent of its beds for COVID-19 patients. However, the order did not specify how many of these should include ICU beds and ventilator beds, for which a shortage is reported.

Kiran, a resident of Kannur, spent all of Friday sending out SOS messages and approaching hospitals in the district, seeking an ICU bed for his 62-year-old father who has COVID-19.

“He was having breathlessness and had low oxygen levels. The doctors in the hospital where he was treated had asked us to shift him to another hospital with ICU and ventilator support. All the hospitals we contacted in Kannur said they did not have any unoccupied ICU beds. For hours we struggled to find one and it was only after 10.30 pm, we got admitted as one bed became free in the Kannur Government Medical College,” said Kiran.

Lack of Coordination

These families also allege confusion and a lack of coordination over bed allotment on the part of authorities and hospitals. “When the private hospital where my father was first treated asked us to find an ICU bed, they said it will be done by health authorities. But when we contacted the Junior Health Inspector in the region, they said it is the hospital who has to coordinate this,” Kiran says.

Yesudas’ relative Anu said that it is time consuming for people to find unoccupied beds in an emergency, pointing to a lack of centralised management system.

“Even when we call different hospitals, they do not call back when any of the beds gets unoccupied. Hospitals say that it is impossible for them to call back as they are getting numerous calls. They ask us to keep calling again and again,” said Anu.

Sources in the Health Department told TNM that ideally it is better if people contact the district control rooms, which can guide people to hospitals, where there are vacant beds.

However, there is no clarity on what is to be done when control rooms also say there are no beds, which was the case with Yesudas in Ernakulam.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Friday urged people to use District Programme Support Units and call centre facilities. “Before getting admitted directly in hospitals, people should first inform control rooms or local health authorities. This will help in the management of oxygen, ICU and ventilator facilities,” the CM said in the press meet on Friday.

(The article was originally published in The News Minute and has been reposted with permission.)

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