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Ambulance charges soar in Odisha as cases spike

A police van escorts an ambulance carrying Covid-19 positive patients during the weekend lockdown period in Bhubaneswar.   | Photo Credit: BISWARANJAN ROUT

Last week when 27-year-old Saroj Baliarsingh (name changed) from Bhubaneshwar frantically searched for an ambulance to shift his COVID-19 infected father to a hospital, ambulance operators demanded ₹20,000.

His father lost battle against the virus before he could be shifted to a hospital. “On normal days, an ambulance operator would charge ₹800 to ₹1000 for taking a patient to the hospital where I wanted to admit my father, about 10 km away. But private ambulance operators now say they are risking their lives, to justify the astronomical costs,” said Mr. Baliarsingh.

Earlier this month, Nagen Sahu in Keonjhar was faced with a similar plight to shift his father, who had tested positive, from Kalikaprasad to the State capital, a distance of 250 km.

“The only ambulance, which was air-conditioned and equipped with emergency machines and oxygen and available in the district, quoted ₹50,000. The price was too high for us. After rounds of persuasions, a mining company agreed to send its ambulance and the charge was nominal,” Mr. Sahu said, adding that people with limited resources were forced to resign to their fate.

Similarly, Rajesh Rout had to drop his idea of shifting his brother-in-law from Jharsuguda to Bhubaneswar with the ambulance operator not ready to settle below ₹35,000.

With active cases steadily rising in the State and condition of people with comorbidities worsening in home isolation, demand for ambulances has soared. If a critical COVID-19 patient is formally referred by a district level hospital to bigger hospitals in Bhubaneswar or Cuttack, ambulance charges are generally borne by the government.

But families trying to shift critically ill COVID-19 patients face an uphill task.

“Ambulance operators cannot charge an exorbitant price. We will surely act against violators if a formal complaint is lodged with police,” said Y. K. Jethwa, Additional Director General of Police (Law and Order), who has been assigned to check the extortion.

As many as 22 flying squads comprising of personnel from the State police, Health department and Directorate of Drugs have been deployed to act against unscrupulous elements. During last 15 days, 269 persons have been arrested in 71 different cases.

Odisha on Friday reported 12,390 cases — highest ever single day spike — taking the total cases to 5,88,687. The active caseload rose to 1,04,016. As many as 22 persons died in the past 24 hours, taking the toll to 2,273.


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Printable version | Jun 23, 2021 3:20:30 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/ambulance-charges-soar-in-odisha-as-cases-spike/article34557435.ece

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