The shopkeepers outside Kasturba Gandhi Hospital for Women and Children in Chepauk are building a thriving business thanks to the unavailability of drinking water at the hospital.

“We take empty bottles and pay Rs. 7 to fill two litres at a shop outside the hospital,” said Maria, the mother of a patient who recently gave birth at the hospital.

According to P.M. Gopinath, director of social obstetrics, “Steel drums have been installed in every ward to provide sterilized water to patients.” Though hospital authorities said there is sufficient drinking water in all the wards, the patients complained of having to bring water from their homes.

Given their low immunity, newborns are supposed to be bathed with sterilized water. At the hospital however, patients claimed to bring their own supply of sterilized water to give their babies a bath. “Water for bathing is not provided by the hospital. We had to bring water from home to give my child a bath,” said Ramya, a new mother.

Several wash basins, such as the one near the D.O.T section in the building, were filled with discarded plastic water bottles, and the tap had run out of water. Even the sintex tank provided for the attendants in the visitor's area had run dry. There was no water supply in the toilets either. “Water supply to toilets is irregular. It resumes and stops abruptly,” said Rani, a patient. The floors of the toilets, which are often found to be wet, are another cause for worry, say patients.

The hospital has 695 beds and currently has 642 in-patients. However, despite having more beds than patients, there have been instances when mothers, especially those who had a natural delivery, were made to sleep on the floor with their newborns. “My day-old child and I were made to sleep on a straw mat on the floor a day after the delivery,” Sapna said.

According to Dr. Gopinath, each of the wards has a specific number of beds allotted for patients. When the number of patients in a ward exceeds bed availability, then such an instance may occur, he said. “Sometime the beds are sent for repair. In such cases, a few wards may face a shortage of beds,” he said.

When asked about the condition of the toilets, he said they were cleaned on a daily basis, but maintaining cleanliness was an issue. Since patients are accompanied by more than one attendants, they end up using toilets meant for the patients, he said.

Responsibility to keep the premises clean lies not just with the hospital authorities but also with patients and their visiting families, he said. Several visitors were seen throwing away food leftover along the sides of the corridor and washing the utensils in the bathing area, resulting is clogging of drains.

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