Shunted from one hospital to another amid Covid-19 pandemic, Sanjay Ghawate could not get timely treatment
Geetanjali Minhas | June 15, 2020 | Mumbai
This is the story of a man who worked hard to improve the life of a metro which failed him when his own life was at stake. This is the story of a citizen activist whose life could not be saved due to alleged apathy amid the crumbling health infrastructure that is under stress of Covid-19.
Sanjay Ghawate, 55, a resident of Kalyan town in Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR), used to relentlessly raise with the authorities the issue of risk to commuters at the narrow and congested Parel station. He commuted to his office at Elphinstone Road (now Prabhadevi), and was a witness to everyday peak-hour rush at the suburban railway station on the central line, in the vicinity of major hospitals, BrihanMumbai municipal corporation (BMC) offices, a veterinary college, a court, a five-star hotel and several business establishments.
The station had many accidental deaths as people had to squeeze through and rush up and down the tight passageway. Without any personal motive, the lean framed citizen activist was determined to pursue the cause and tirelessly pushed the matter before railway authorities at the centre and the state, ministers and leaders, and just about anyone who would bother to make the spot safe.
Governance Now reported about his efforts in 2010, in this story:
Man with a mission gets bridge for Mumbai rly station
Over the years this reporter received many calls from the crusader with updates on developments at Parel station. After the station was significantly improved, he started asking the authorities to convert it into a terminus so as to reduce the commuter load at the next stop on central side, Dadar station.
It was shocking – to say the least – when Ghawate’s sister, Apoorva Misal, called this reporter to say that he had passed away on June 6, due to alleged callousness of some doctors and hospitals.
When fever and weakness had persisted for around ten days, he had gone to his family physician in his neighbourhood on June 3. The doctor, according to Misal, not only turned him away saying he had no Covid-19 symptoms but also told him to leave the clinic as it was full of Covid-19 patients.
Their ordeal had just begun. No medicine was prescribed to him and the concerned family members decided to give him Paracetamol. His fever came down but Ghawate was feeling breathless and weak. By night, he started having severe difficulty in breathing.
“The next morning, on June 4, I left my home in Andheri to see my brother and took him to Holy Cross Hospital near his house in Kalyan. Right at the gate we were turned away by security guards who said they needed his Covid-19 test report first to be allowed in. Mumbai was lashed with Cyclone Nisraga that day,” Misal recalls.
Ironically, she studied in Holy Cross Convent School right from KG to Class X in the same neighbourhood and her son was born in this hospital. But such connections were of little help.
“It was only later that we were told that Holy Cross Hospital did have vacant beds for both Covid and non-Covid patients. Only if they had checked him there, my brother would have been with us today,” says Misal, who has worked as a teacher for 20 years with BMC and four years in the private sector.
Despite repeated attempts, Governance Now could not contact Holy Cross Hospital authorities.
They then took him to Rukmani Hospital, a Kalyan-Dombivli Municipal Corporation (KDMC), about 5 km away. Ghawate’s health meanwhile slipped down further. Here he was checked for symptoms. The family was told his condition was serious and he needed to be kept in the ICU. They were forewarned that the blood tests reports could get further delayed as these would be sent to Kasturba Hospital or KEM Hospital in Mumbai, which had a pile of backlog of tests from across the metropolis, the worst affected city in India. Delay in reports would mean a prolonged stay in hospital. They were advised to take him to Shastri Nagar Hospital instead.
An ambulance brought him to Shastri Nagar Hospital, where the family paid Rs 350 for his blood tests and he was put on oxygen. The family was told that an ICU bed was available at Sai Hospital, about 15-20 km away, and he should be taken there. When they reached Sai Hospital in an ambulance at around 1.45 pm, they refused him admission saying no bed was available.
“Despite the fact that Shastri Nagar Hospital had a word with Dr Sushil Zope to take Sanjay in, we were refused entry. One and a half hour passed as we both waited at the hospital periphery along with other patients and their relatives. By now I was completely frustrated and pushed myself inside the hospital. I was surprised to see there were many vacant beds. I threatened them that I will call the media and political leaders if they refused to take in my brother and started making calls for help but lines were not connecting. Then Dr Zope finally allowed us in and admitted my brother at 3.50pm. At the hospital my husband was asked to deposit ICU charges of Rs 50,000, which they reduced to Rs 25,000 after MNS [Maharashtra Navnirman Sena] leader Bala Nandgaonkar intervened. Another Rs 11,000 was paid for medicines.
“To have his reports at the earliest we decided to get him tested at Metropolis Lab nearby and paid Rs 4,500. Finally the swab test was done on the night of June 4. As we were told to leave in the evening, an assistant doctor from the hospital called us to inform that the patient was showing improvement and his oxygen level was increasing. Meanwhile, I called my relative – a doctor – in Kolhapur to stay connected with the doctor treating Sanjay at Sai Hospital so as to know his health status,” adds Misal.
On June 5, as the family was trying to get him shifted to an ICU at a Mumbai hospital, assistant doctor, Chetan, called the family at 6.30 pm, after receiving test results, and informed them that Ghawate was Covid positive. When Misal called her relative in Kolhapur to update him, he was surprised and said he had been told by Dr Zope that Ghawate was Covid negative and suffering only from intense pneumonia and lung infection.
“On the 6th morning, the hospital called to say that I would have to pay their charges. We were also told that the patient was not taking food. Assistant doctor named Lokesh told me he was not eating because he was being given oxygen. When I asked them why they were not putting him on ‘BiPAP’, I was told four other Covid patients required it. Should I remove it from other patients and put it on your brother, he said to me. In the ICU, I saw that he was barely able to speak, yet he kept insisting he wanted to leave the hospital. His clothes had not been changed. I pushed some idli into his mouth and requested the doctor to attend to him but he was not bothered. I was told to pay Rs 37,428 for two days’ medicine which included charges for BiPAP and a PPE suit. I am not sure if the medicine was given to my brother at all. When I tried to have a word with Dr Zope about my brother’s condition he left without any reply. At 3.30 pm, I was forced to leave the hospital by the guards,” says Misal.
At 4.45 pm, her husband received a call from the hospital; they said he was dead. His death time is recorded as 4.15 pm. The family received the body at 10.30 pm with a syringe on it. The hospital only gave an acknowledgement on a rough slip mentioning his death. The laboratory report received on June 12 states “SARS-CoV -2 RNA- Not Detected”.
“Only if Holy Cross Hospital had admitted my brother, his life would have been saved. It is a wrong to admit only confirmed Covid patients when nobody is diagnosing patients. We were sent from one hospital to another without any response from doctors, there was huge delay due to which my brother’s health worsened and he lost his life. I showed even my BMC identity card everywhere but it was of no use,” she says wiping her tears.
“The hospital charges Rs 10,000 for the ICU stay per day. How can poor people afford such treatment? After Nandgaonkar’s intervention the hospital did not charge us Rs 10,000 per day but they did charge Rs 37,428 for medicine. Out of the Rs 25,000 deposit, they deducted Rs 15,000 towards ICU changes and refunded Rs 10,000. Nandgaonkar’s help came only after my brother had passed away,” she adds.
This reporter made several calls to Sai Hospital to speak to Dr Zope but the hospital gave different and conflicting answers and did not let her connect through to him. When she tried to speak to Dr Lokesh, he was evasive and did not give any clear reply about when Dr Zope will be available. Asked the cause of Ghawate’s death, Dr Lokesh said he was a suspected Covid -19 patient and given basic treatment. Asked about the laboratory report that says ‘SARS- Cov2- RNA - Not Detected’, Dr Lokesh said: “So what? It is not written anywhere that if his first sample is negative, it means that the patient is negative. Mostly in the early stage a patient’s sample is negative and it can turn positive after two-three days or a week.”
Sanjay was admitted in Sai Hopital for only three days. Dr Lokesh gave the cause of death as acute respiratory failure, with bilateral pneumonia. Asked why the hospital took so long to admit Ghawate after he was referred here by Shastri Nagar Hospital, Dr Lokesh denied the claim and said he was admitted within 10-15 minutes.
Ghawate is survived by his wife and a son. His mother, Padmavati, says that she never allowed him to leave the house during the lockdown except for buying vegetables as all supplies were available at doorstep. “After he had breathing trouble, we were turned away from one hospital after another and had difficulty getting him a bed and treatment. His health deteriorated and we decided to keep him in the Dombivli hospital. Sanjay was insisting on being taken out of Sai Hospital as he did not like it there, and my daughter and her husband were looking for an alternative hospital,” says Padmavati.
“I am old. My son was my hope, now I have lost my support.”
Nandgaonkar told Governance Now: “Ghawate would often come to my office. He was very active in citizen issues related to the railway. When his sister called me and said Sai Hospital was not treating him properly and they wanted to shift him to another hospital in Dombivli-Kalyan itself, I checked with RR, Wockhardt and other hospitals in Dombivli but no bed was available. Then I asked my shakha boys to reach out to the family and provide help. I called his sister to tell her that my colleagues were on the job, but meanwhile her husband called to say, Ghawate was no more.
“As per his family, the hospital was negligent and they can file a case against it. It is true that there are problems with treatment and availability of beds in hospitals. It is a fact that only serious Covid patients are taken seriously by hospitals. Health infrastructure in Mumbai is in crisis and the number of patients is increasing by the day. Mumbai needs many hospitals. I say, along with construction of buildings, civic authorities should now create separate plots for construction of hospitals. Schools are coming up everywhere but no plots are given for hospitals.”
Sudheendra Kulkarni, former Observer Research Foundation (ORF) Mumbai chairman and now an independent socio-political activist, is among those civil society leaders who knew Ghawate. “I am heartbroken to learn that Sanjay Ghawate is no more. He was a one-man crusader for improving the railway infrastructure in Mumbai so that its harried commuters could have a little more comfort and safety. His area of activism was limited – Parel and Elphinstone railway stations – because this is where Mumbai has seen the most striking transformation both in its business and transportation landscapes,” Kulkarni says.
“Even though Ghawate was an ordinary man he had an extraordinary commitment to the cause he had chosen: pleading with railway authorities, political leaders and the media to make the dangerously overcrowded Parel railway station better for commuters. He used to meet me often when I was at ORF Mumbai seeking my help in the matter. I couldn't do much but I was struck by his patience, passion and persistence despite the frustration of dealing with an insensitive railway bureaucracy. Our world needs such unselfish and intrepid warriors for public good,” he said.
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