29/06/2020 4:29 PM IST

This Citizens' Initiative Is Helping Coronavirus Patients Find Hospital Beds In Delhi

As discrepancies showed up in the number of available beds shown by the Delhi government's app and those actually vacant, Charity Beds began documenting availability on social media.

Hindustan Times via Getty Images
New beds set up inside the Shehnai Banquet Hall-temporarily converted to a quarantine facility for COVID-19 patients, opposite LNJP Hospital, on June 20, 2020 in New Delhi.

As India hits new daily peaks of COVID-19 cases, Delhi is bracing itself for a spike in the next few weeks. While India’s COVID-19 cases are growing at about 3.60 per cent daily, Delhi has been growing at 5.52 per cent compared with Maharashtra which is growing at 2.95 per cent, according to Indian Express.

As cases shot up in June, Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia said the city could have 5.5 lakh cases by the end of July and would need 80,000 hospital beds. (Union home minister Amit Shah later contradicted this.)

The capital has some of best hospitals in the country but the rapid transmission of the novel coronavirus is straining the limits of the city’s health system. News reports are filled with stories of people struggling to get hospital beds. (Read here, here, here and here).

As discrepancies showed up in the number of available beds shown by the Delhi government’s app and those actually vacant, Charity Beds began documenting availability on social media.

On June 6, the volunteer effort which usually works to help the underprivileged patients get medical treatment in Delhi’s private hospitals shifted its focus to help people in need of Covid assistance.

Former Oberoi group chairman Kapil Chopra, who leads the initiative along with Arun Kapur and Lalit Bhatia, said it’s meant to be a bridge between the information provided by the government and people who need it.

“The number of available Covid beds is fluctuating every passing hour as the number of cases rise so we have to be on our toes to give out accurate data to the public.”

What has it been like to coordinate access to hospital beds at a time when the strain on the medical infrastructure in Delhi is high because of COVID-19?

One of key things we found in Delhi was that the beds were available but the Delhi Corona app was not being updated consistently. We also found that there was an information gap due to which people were visiting the four key hospitals – Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital, All India Institute of Medical Sciences and Safdarjung Hospital. These hospitals were already operating to full capacity. So they panicked more and got more desperate. There were other hospitals where beds were available but people were not aware of this. So our job was to share that information, every hour.

There were also two major cases of confusion. Firstly, LNJP Hospital (biggest Covid hospital) had been made a hospital for Covid patients. It was interpreted that anybody walking in to this hospital had been tested Covid positive. However, people with symptoms also went to the hospital to get themselves tested and were turned away as they did not have a Covid positive report. This created more confusion as suspected Covid cases were turned away. Secondly, the Delhi government issued an order stating that a lot of beds in private hospitals should be converted into Covid beds but the order did not mention the date by which this was to be done. This also led to confusion in the minds of patients as they thought that beds were available. However, it took hospitals from 7 to 15 days to convert their wards to Covid isolation wards.

Charity Beds became the bridge between the information of the government, processing the information correctly, guiding people properly and also ensuring that already overburdened hospitals were not burdened with more patients, giving people alternatives. Thus, if bed was not available at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, people could go to BL Kapoor Hospital which had 40 beds available and if beds were not available in Central Delhi, there were hospitals in Narela which had 100 beds, and on some days, even 200 beds available.

The stark difference in the situation is that, when we started this initiative of helping Covid patients on 6th June, we did not know if we could get somebody an ICU bed or a general Covid bed in the hospital. But today, we can get people over 2000 general Covid beds and close to 50 ICU beds in Delhi at any given time depending upon the area that the person is from as the information has been distilled to the level that it is real time and we are disseminating it through social media to the entire public of Delhi.

Since June 6, you’ve also been tracking the number of ICU beds, ventilators in government hospitals. How have you been collecting this information? How easy or difficult has it been to get the details?

We have been coordinating by calling the nodal officers and staff appointed to handle Covid patients in respective hospitals. However, getting details about ICU and ventilators is much more difficult in government hospitals owing to large hospital structure and more patient influx but we have been able to do so as we understand how public healthcare works.

Has the process required you to talk to hospital authorities or government officials?

Our work requires us to constantly coordinate with whoever is handling Covid cases in the hospitals, be it Nodal Officers, Chief Medical Officers, doctors in wards or even reception desk at the hospitals. We are more of a citizen’s movement if I may say so.

What feedback have you been receiving from people since you started this?

The response has been overwhelming from almost everyone. People are appreciating our efforts to contribute in this pandemic. We have been receiving call messages from other states also as well asking how they can start a similar initiative in their states. A gentleman in Mumbai contacted me through Twitter expressing his desire to take up the same initiative in Mumbai. People from other states have also contacted me for the same purpose. We have shared a one pager with them guiding them on how to start the initiative in their city and shared it on twitter. The idea is for citizens to take responsibility instead of lamenting the system.

How many requests does Charity Beds handle on a daily basis? Has there been an increase in the last few months?

On an average, we receive close to 50 queries in a day via social media (Facebook &Twitter), calls and emails. However, there are days, when the number is higher. These queries relate to availability of general beds, ICUs/Ventilators, self isolation, Covid testing, plasma requirement and non Covid cases which require urgent medical attention on a daily basis. We also get a lot of queries that require guidance regarding symptoms, when to get tested, when to approach a hospital, how to self-quarantine, self-isolate and how take care of a family member who is Covid positive or suspected.

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