Displaying a lack of accountability and scant regard for those who died of COVID-19 complications, the staff at the Government Medical College and Hospital here allegedly allowed some members of the public to enter the mortuary and take away a body for cremation.
After watching a video that was doing the rounds on social media, senior health and revenue officials ordered a probe on Wednesday.
Preliminary inquiries revealed that Baladhandapani, 47, of Nallakaruppanpatti, near Periakulam, went to the Periakulam Government Hospital after developing symptoms of COVID-19. The doctors there referred him to the Theni Government Medical College and Hospital for admission.
The patient required oxygen support. The treatment, according to his relatives, was not satisfactory. He died on Monday. The body was wrapped and kept in the mortuary.
The relatives of the deceased claimed there was no proper response when they came to the hospital. When they went to the morgue, two government staff, identified as Gnanasekaran and Nagajothi, and another staff, Pandeeswaran, employed by a private contractor, said the bodies had been wrapped in polythene sheets. They reportedly permitted Venkatesh, a relative of the deceased, to go inside for identification.
After Mr. Venkatesh spotted the body, the staff handed it over to him. As per the standard operating procedure, the bodies of victims declared “dead due to COVID-19 virus complications” should be cremated by the civic authorities in accordance with health protocols and should not be handed over to the relatives.
Against this backdrop, the medical college’s Dean, Balajinathan, in an explanation to the authorities, apologised for the incident.
He said action had been initiated against the erring staff. A gate had been put up at the mortuary, and it had been locked. Security personnel would guard it round the clock.
According to RTI activist C. Anandraj, the staff strength at the Theni Government Medical College and Hospital should be increased.
Condemning the incident, he said the frontline workers alone cannot be held responsible. Amid the pandemic, the conservancy workers had several issues, and the administrators had not responded to their demands, he said.
The morgue had no space and hence, the workers left the bodies on the floor. There was a need to recruit staff and ensure adequate isolation of the doctors and para-medical staff. Infrastructure should be provided at the morgue, RTI activist C. Anandraj said.