How COVID-19 Spread Across 3 Super Specialty Hospitals in Kashmir

The virus spread in three tertiary care hospitals with 22 healthcare workers, mostly doctors, getting infected.

Updated
India
6 min read
In Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences, Bone and Joint Hospital and the Super Specialty Hospital (SSH) at Shireen Bagh COVID-19 cases and screening are on the rise.
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The total number of active coronavirus cases in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir was a manageable 469 as of 12 May 2020. Of the 934 persons found infected with COVID-19 over the last two months, 455 have recovered and 10 have died.

However, these numbers bring little cheer to Lieutenant Governor GC Murmu’s administration after the virus spread in three of the Valley’s tertiary care hospitals with 22 healthcare workers, mostly doctors, getting infected.

These include the Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences, Bone and Joint Hospital, and the Super Specialty Hospital (SSH) at Shireen Bagh.

In Routine Tests, Patients Found Positive for COVID-19

Around 40 frontline healthcare workers, including 12 doctors, were immediately put in quarantine at the Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences.
Around 40 frontline healthcare workers, including 12 doctors, were immediately put in quarantine at the Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences.
(Photo: Ahmed Ali Fayyaz/The Quint)

On 12 May, a 40-year-old woman from Bijbehara Anantnag tested positive for COVID-19 at the Super Speciality Hospital – Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS) – in Soura.

She had been admitted to the gastroenterology ward of the top tertiary care hospital about a month ago. Her swab had been taken for testing as a routine, prior to a surgical procedure.

According to Medical Superintendent Dr Farooq Jan, around 40 frontline healthcare workers, including 12 doctors, were immediately put in quarantine. Their samples were collected for screening.

Last week, six in-patients were found infected with COVID-19 in the UT’s super specialty orthopedic centre, Bone and Joint Hospital Barzulla, in Srinagar. Several doctors, staff nurses, patients and their attendees were quarantined and screened thereafter.

The death of a 62-year-old man from the downtown Srinagar neighbourhood of Kralpora Hawal at the Chest Diseases Hospital on Monday, 11 May, cast a pall of gloom on the summer capital. His 32-year-old son had died at another hospital on Thursday, 7 May.

Both had comorbidities but doctors describe the COVID-19 infection as their cause of death. They say both were infected in the ward at Super Specialty Hospital (SSH) Shireen Bagh, Srinagar, from a 55-year-old woman from Anantnag.

These are the 9th and the 10th fatal casualties due to COVID-19 in Jammu and Kashmir where 9 persons have died in the Valley, and one in Jammu.

Since all family members of the deceased have been put in quarantine, not more than three neighbours and two healthcare workers conducted his last rites at the Baba Mazar cemetery in Zadibal. Mohammad Shafat of Khwaja Bazar Nowhatta, an employee of Public Health Centre SR Gunj led the namaaz-e-janazah. And as nobody was willing to dig a grave, it was all left to the police.

How Coronavirus Travels Despite Lockdown in Kashmir

Also at the Super Specialty Hospital (SSH) at Shireen Bagh, the aforementioned 55-year-old female in-patient tested positive for COVID-19 on 2 May. Admitted a week before for plastic surgery, she too, was routine-screened before the operation. Her test report forced closure of the hospital for three days, shifting of patients and forcing 20-22 frontline healthcare workers into quarantine.

In April, the same woman who is from Sangam Bijbehara, Anantnag, had been admitted to the Bone and Joint Hospital where she developed cellular fasciitis. She was subsequently referred to the Department of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at SSH for necrosis and related debridement procedures.

Waiting for the operation for about a week, she was prepared for a procedure with mandatory COVID-19 screening on 1 May. However, the very next day her reports came positive.

Doctors, Nurses, Technicians, Patients, & Attendees Infected

State Surveillance officials at the office of Financial Commissioner Health and Medical Education said that amongst the 22 frontline health workers, mostly doctors, had turned out to be positive for COVID-19 in Jammu and Kashmir.
State Surveillance officials at the office of Financial Commissioner Health and Medical Education said that amongst the 22 frontline health workers, mostly doctors, had turned out to be positive for COVID-19 in Jammu and Kashmir.
(Photo: Ahmed Ali Fayyaz/The Quint)

Twenty doctors, staff nurses, technicians and other staff were immediately placed in home and administrative quarantine at SSH. Swabs of the hospital staff and 20-odd patients admitted at the ward and their attendants were collected and sent for testing.

One lady chief medical officer (CMO), three staff nurses, one sweeper, two patients and four attendees have tested positive for COVID-19. They included the 62-year-old man who died on 11 May. According to the Medical Superintendent at SSH, Dr Shabir Ahmad Dar, 300 contacts of the Anantnag woman and their chain of contacts had been screened, though most of them were found negative.

The 62-year-old man from downtown Srinagar was actually suffering from pancreatic cancer. After it was found that he had contracted COVID-19 from the Anantnag female co-patient, he was shifted to the adjoining Shri Maharaja Hari Singh (SMHS) Hospital. His son, who was also his attendant, developed complications, including pneumonia, which led to him also being admitted to the hospital on 5 May. On 6 May his reports came back positive for COVID-19. On 7 May, he breathed his last at SMHS Hospital. Four days later, his father who had been moved to the Chest Diseases Hospital also died.

“Most of the 300 suspects screened by us have turned out to be negative. Five of our staffers, including a lady chief medical officer (CMO), have tested positive in addition to two patients and four attendees. They are asymptomatic and admitted to COVID hospitals. Ten to twenty of our staffers are in home or administrative quarantine as a precautionary measure. None of them has shown symptoms. Sadly, one patient and his son have died,” Dr Dar told The Quint.

Several Departments Shut Down

Dr Dar said that the entire 220-bed referral hospital was closed for necessary sterilisation and fumigation for two to three days. Thereafter, only emergency services were restored. However, departments of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, Surgical Oncology and Urology have been indefinitely shut down since 2 May.

“We are conducting dialysis, chemotherapy, endoscopies and neurosurgeries. Even today, we had a case of gastric malignancy,” Dr Dar said. The intractable has not spared even family members of the doctors. The lady CMO’s husband, daughter and mother-in-law also have COVID-19.

“It’s an alarming situation. SSH is a hot red zone but still not marked as out-of-bounds for common people. It continues to be free for all. Patients, attendants and other visitors come, pass through different wards and rooms and go back. There are no restrictions,” said a doctor at SSH.

Frontline Health Workers Complain Of Non-Availability of PPE

Staff nurses on strike complained that the staff had not been provided with personal protection equipment (PPE) and there was every possibility of their getting infected and carrying the killer infection home to their children and families.

“The hospital administration is admitting patients without screening. Had they observed the protocol of testing before admission, nobody would have been infected here. One patient and his attendant son have died so far. Who is responsible for their death?” said a staff nurse.

She said that 20-22 of the staff had been quarantined while on duty and were not being provided PPE or safe accommodation. “We wear the same mask for four days. Many of us have health problems. I am myself diabetic. We are forced to go home after dealing with suspected positive patients and their attendants. They are endangering not only our life but also that of our families and children,” she complained.

The SSH staff said they had not been provided accommodation for isolation. There was a very real apprehension of them getting infected and carrying the virus home to children and other family members. “This is a virtual red zone and should have been restricted for entry,” demanded a staff nurse.

Dr Dar said: “It is a referral super specialty hospital. We can’t shut it for those coming for dialysis, chemotherapy and other medical emergencies. We have established isolation rooms on one floor. Coming to the PPE, I can assure you that we have sufficient stocks and everybody gets sufficient quantities of sanitizers and PPE”. He said that the issue of accommodation was being resolved within a couple of days.

Mainly Doctors Among 22 COVID-19 Positive Health Workers in J&K

State Surveillance officials at the office of Financial Commissioner Health and Medical Education revealed to The Quint that amongst the 22 frontline health workers, mostly doctors, had turned out to be positive for Covid-19 in Jammu and Kashmir. Of them 15 were from Kashmir and 7 from Jammu.

(The writer is a Srinagar-based journalist. He can be reached@ahmedalifayyaz.)

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