Two accidents in the recent past expose the poor state of buildings and equipment

The fire in Government Kilpauk Hospital on Saturday in which three patients died and the death of a woman who fell into a well in the Government Hospital of Thoracic Medicine in Tambaram recently has brought into focus the issue of safety in government hospitals.

The hospitals are maintained by the Public Works Department, which is in charge of the general maintenance of the buildings and its installations. A similar accident on November 18, 2008 involving air-conditioning units the intensive care unit of the Institute of Neurosciences, Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital, resulted in damage to the room. However, there was no casualty then. Poor maintenance of equipment was cited as the reason for that fire.

The IMCU in the Kilpauk hospital was housed in a building where several partitions had been created to accommodate very sick patients. As the unit was a closed place there was “substantial amount of fumes” that suffocated the already ill patients.

The fire, caused by a short-circuit in an air-conditioner in the doctors' room in the IMCU, was extinguished within 15 minutes but the damage was extensive. Expensive medical equipment and medicines, necessary to maintain the vital parameters of the patients, were lost.

A total of eight patients in the IMCU, some of whom were immobile, could not be shifted out without assistance. In fact, the deaths occurred as the patients waited for assistance. While the mobile patients were helped by their attendants, the immobile patients had to be shifted with the help of Fire Service personnel. The wait proved fatal for three of the victims.

Officials of the Public Works Department, which maintains the hospital, who investigated the cause of fire, have given their report to the authorities concerned.

Medical Superintendent R. Sukumar said, “We have installed fire retardants in the intensive care units. The compressor of the AC installed in the doctors' room burst due to high voltage. Fire was extinguished within 15 minutes. We managed to shift 150 patients from four wards in the building.”

The new buildings, with better intensive medical care unit facilities, were supposed to be opened in January but were not inaugurated due to the delay in laying the sewage lines. The entrance to the hospital was shifted to accommodate the ongoing Metrorail work. The construction work inside and outside the hospital has considerably reduced the passageway from Poonamallee High Road to the hospital, leading to slower movement of vehicles and pedestrians. Though this concern has been raised several times by patients, their attendants and doctors, it has remained unaddressed.

Arrangements made

Terming Thursday's incident of a woman falling into a well and drowning “unfortunate,” C. Chandrashekar, Superintendent, Government Hospital of Thoracic Medicine in Tambaram Sanatorium, said adequate arrangements were made for patient attendants.

He said attendants of inpatients stayed with the patients in their respective wards. For those accompanying the outpatients, the hospital had created an open space with tiles and lighting. Two toilets, one each for men and women, had been built. The hospital would be building permanent structures around the well to prevent anyone from getting close to it, Dr. Chandrashekar added.

Hospital staff recalled that concrete roof was provided on the well, located opposite the Anti Retroviral Therapy Centre, more than a decade ago. All six wells inside the GHTM premises were cleaned or chlorinated once a week, or at least once a fortnight to ensure that water supply source was clean and neat.

As the well, whose concrete covering gave way, was completely closed, chlorine vapour had caused corrosion in the small iron beams used in the roof and they had weakened over the years. The well in question was under the maintenance of Public Works Department, staff added.

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R. SujathaJune 28, 2012

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