In the wake of 11 COVID-related deaths in two of Mumbai's private hospitals – Vinayaka Hospital and Riddhi Vinayak Multispeciality Hospital – due to lack of oxygen or LMO (Liquid Medical Oxygen) in Nalasopara, Palghar district, no COVID patient (except those who are critically ill) is being admitted any more.
Oxygen beds and ICU/ventilator beds remain a concern at both hospitals.
As Mumbai and Maharashtra on the whole account for a massive number of cases and a rapidly rising per-day infection rate, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray in a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday, 15 April, requested for the National Disaster Management Authority’s (NDMA) intervention and make use of all options, including airlifting medical oxygen and increasing the supply of Remdesivir.
COVID Not the Only Reason for Death, Say Hospitals
Officials at the hospitals said pre-existing medical conditions, and not COVID-19 alone, resulted in the deaths.
Venkat Goel, dean of Riddhi Vinayak Multispeciality Hospital, told The Quint, "It has been reported that three deaths occurred, but one was due to multiple organ failure. The dearth of liquid oxygen still persists and we cannot deny that. Because we are a self-dependent and self-sufficient hospital, we do not call for liquid oxygen from outside. Before COVID-19, 40 cylinders used to suffice, but now even 100 cylinders are not enough. Due to the spike in cases, the demand for oxygen has suddenly shot up. This is the reason we are forced to depend on oxygen from outside and are currently 40 percent deficient."
Jitendra Shinde, a local corporator from Shiv Sena, said, “My relative is feeling better and is getting attention at Riddhi Vinayak. But had we brought him three days ago, it would have been a cause for concern as there had been a major deficit in the entire Vasai-Virar and Nalasopara region. They are still short on beds and I saw people being turned away due to unavailability. They are short on staff too."
Earlier on Monday, 12 April, an audio message of Rajiv Patil, the mayor of Vasai, purportedly talking about a severe shortage of oxygen was widely shared on social media.
Lack of Beds
Riddhi Vinayak Hospital, has prominently displayed a notice that reads – ‘No bed available for COVID patients’.
"This was put up keeping in mind the number of beds available and the amount of oxygen we can spare. It is done as per whether the patient falls in general, non-critical or critical category. We cannot fill up all our beds. We have to maintain at least 25 percent backup of oxygen supply," says Goel.
Meanwhile, a woman outside Vinayaka Hospital was exasperated at being denied entry to visit her brother. "My brother has COVID and is recovering. Yesterday, when he asked for his RT-PCR report, they said he need not worry as he was ready to be discharged. But now, they are not allowing me to go inside the hospital," she said, adding that the hospital also insisted kin of patients to buy PPE kits and wear them to go inside.
The staff at Vinayaka, too, told The Quint that they were not taking in new patients, due to a 'severe bed shortage'. Dr Shashikant Yadav from the hospital was not available to comment, while the other doctors were on COVID duty at the hospital.
About 10 tonnes of LMO was provided to a few hospitals, including the two in the Mumbai Metropolitan region, by Raigad district administration in Maharashtra. The requirement of medical oxygen in the state is crossing the total capacity of 1,200 MT (metric tonnes) of LMO manufacturing. The projected demand will be close to 2,000 MT per day by April-end.
Kshitij Thakur, an MLA from Bahujan Vikas Aghadi in Nalasopara constituency, said, "A case has been registered for the 11 deaths and there will be an enquiry and probe by the Chief Medical Officer and Municipal Commissioner of the Vasai Virar Municipal Corporation (VVMC). Currently, there is an acute shortage of beds and ventilators. I spoke to Raigad Guardian Minister Aditi Tatkare, after which a few additional tonnes of oxygen cylinders were made available. Private hospitals are the worst-hit when it comes to giving the Remdesivir injection as they are out of stock."
Several calls to the VVMC Commissioner for his comments on the matter went unanswered.
Thakur said the problem was of a different kind this time. "Earlier, there was oxygen deficit. Now that this is being resolved, tankers for transportation are not available as the demand has suddenly increased."
Vasai-Virar currently has over 7,000 active cases as Mumbai is in the grip of an alarming second wave, with over 36 lakh people affected. Based on current projections and rate of testing, Maharashtra is likely to record 11.9 lakh active cases by 30 April.
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