The mystery of a ‘missing’ 33-year-old female patient from the newly-operational jumbo COVID-19 facility in the city’s College of Engineering, Pune (CoEP) grounds has sparked outrage among social outfits and activists.
The patient, who had first tested positive on August 28 and had been admitted to the jumbo facility in the early morning of August 30, has not returned home since. Neither the staff at the facility nor the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) administration have the slightest clue of her ‘disappearance’.
On Thursday, the Republican Yuva Morcha (RYM), an Amedkarite outfit, staged a protest outside the CoEP facility along with the woman’s kin, demanding a probe against errant officials.
“A patient has been missing for 25 days and the hospital staff have no record. The administration has been cheating the woman’s mother by falsely claiming that the girl was admitted to the CoEP facility and was undergoing treatment. Now, the PMC is conveniently shifting blame on Lifeline — the former contractor that was tasked with the management of the facility,” Rahul Dambale, president, RYM, said.
The woman had first gone to the COVID-19 facility in the city’s Balewadi but was referred to the Sassoon General Hospital as the former was full. As the latter hospital, too, was full to capacity, she was admitted to the CoEP facility on August 30.
Two weeks later, when the patient’s mother, Ragini Gambire, visited the jumbo facility to collect her daughter, she was faced with an array of bewildering answers regarding her daughter’s presence in the facility.
“When I visited the centre on September 13, the staff had no clue as to where she was. I was first told she was not in her bed and that she would be discharged later in the day. Then, the staff said that they could not find her. We searched for her on the hospital’s premises,” said Ms. Gambire, who lodged a missing person complaint at the Shivajinagar police station on September 14.
The PMC's deputy municipal commissioner Rajendra Muthe said as per records of the jumbo COVID-19 hospital, the woman had been given discharge on September 5.
“We have the hospital’s CCTV footage till September 4 in which the patient’s movement inside the facility is seen. We are in the process of handing over all the records and footage to the police for investigation,” Mr. Muthe said.
Speaking to The Hindu , Mr. Dambale lashed out at the apathy and ineptness of the PMC authorities, questioning as to why it had taken so long for the PMC to hand over the CCTV footage to the investigating authorities.
“Until two days, PMC additional commissioner Rubal Agarwal, who is in charge of the jumbo facilities, was claiming that the patient was being treated there. Now, the authorities flip-flop and say she had been discharged on September 5. What kind of irresponsibility is this? Is it not the responsibility of the PMC to ensure that she was sent back to her home in an ambulance?” he questioned.
Mr. Dambale said that it was inconceivable that a mega COVID-19 facility, set up with ₹200 crore of the taxpayers’ money, had no proper records of its patients.
“So, who were the security in-charge? Ideally, the police should file a kidnapping case in this matter and the probe must be led by an officer of the assistant commissioner of police rank,” he said, adding that the RYM was planning to move the Bombay High Court soon if the PMC authorities did not make a clean breast of things.
Criticising the PMC’s lacklustre management, Pune City Congress spokesman Ramesh Iyer said: “First, more than 40 patients succumb within 12 days in the CoEP jumbo facility because it is being operated on half-capacity, without requisite trained staff. Now, a woman goes missing. This is shocking and shameful.”
He said that the administration’s claims of streamlining operations at the facility had proved hollow, as authorities had made no arrangements of keeping relatives updated as to the condition of their patients.
The 800-bed critical care CoEP has been in the eye of a storm ever since it commenced operations late last month, with more than 40 deaths reported within the first fortnight itself, along with complaints pertaining to the alleged insensitivity of the medical staff.