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Untrained staff, faulty safety gear: Gujarat Hospitals blamed for killer fire tragedies

| Updated: September 29, 2021 00:06

A probe into two gruesome tragedies that claimed the lives of more than 10 Covid-19 patients has found several lacunae in the hospitals’ efficiency and preparedness in handling emergencies. An inquiry conducted by Justice (Retired) DA Mehta’s Inquiry Commission into the fire incidents at two hospitals of Gujarat – Shrey Hospital in Navrangpura, Ahmedabad and Uday Shivanand Covid-19 Hospital in Rajkot – was tabled in the State Monsoon Assembly on Tuesday and pinned the blame squarely on the hospital management.

Shrey Hospital, Ahmedabad (Casualties: Eight) Cause: Untrained staff, obsolete equipment
In a heart-wrenching tragedy, eight Covid-19 patients undergoing treatment at the Covid-19 designated Shrey Hospital in Ahmedabad were killed in a fire in August last year. The fire occurred in the ICU ward on the fourth floor.

As per the report, the hospital’s owner Bharat Vijaydas Mahant admitted before the inquiry commission that the hospital staff were not trained in using safety equipment in case of fires. In addition, the ICU, too, did not have fire safety equipment. The ICU’s fire alarm system, smoke sensors and/or sprinklers were also found to be either missing or in an incorrect format.

The cause of the fire at Shrey Hospital was found to be an old patient-monitoring system. It was said to be at least 15 years old. Patient monitoring systems installed in hospitals have a life span of five years. In the case of Shrey Hospital, the system was purchased in 2006-2007 and was operational since then. It was never replaced or renewed, only serviced. Thus, rendering it obsolete.

The ICU’s windows were also fitted with glass screws. In case of fire, the one that broke out on August 6, 2020, in the ICU of Shrey hospital, smoke from the fire remained inside the ICU. The report blames the hospital’s management and owner Bharat Mahant for the incident.

The report also pointed at the government’s policy for the regularisation of unauthorised construction and asserted the need to charge an impact fee. Inadequate parking facilities and other ‘violations’ pertaining to the construction are also highlighted in the report. “If unauthorised construction in and on the premises of Shrey Hospital was regularised, the fatalities could have been avoided,” the report said.

Due to varied obstructions in the margin area, fire personnel were forced to go on the terrace to access the ICU which was on the fourth floor of the hospital. This resulted in a delay causing the death of seven patients due to asphyxiation and one patient died of burn injuries, reported the Commission.

Uday Shivanand Covid-19 Hospital, Rajkot (Casualties: Five) Cause: Faulty ventilators, blocked exits
Five coronavirus patients, all of them senior citizens and male, were killed in a massive fire that broke out in the ICU of the Uday Shivanand Covid-19 Hospital in Rajkot in November last year. The Commission pointed out that the hospital had installed “Dhaman” brand ventilators in the ICU, and the cause of the fire was a short circuit that occurred in it.
The hospital management told the inquiry commission that they had not purchased the ventilators, but had only “brought them from the company for the purpose of using it”. Thus, the Commission did not bluntly blame the ventilator manufacturer for the unfortunate accident.

The report stated, “The management has not purchased the ventilators, and is not in a position to take any action against the manufacturer. This is despite, even if a piece is found to be defective or of sub-standard quality.” 

However, the Rajkot hospital’s emergency exit door was closed and blocked by medical equipment stacked directly across the door.

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