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Ernakulam’s hospitals running short of ventilators and ICU beds

Major private hospitals in Kerala’s Ernakulam district are running out of beds for critical care — intensive care unit (ICU) beds and ventilator beds — for COVID-19 patients. With 19,101 COVID-19 patients, Ernakulam district accounts for the third-highest active cases in the state, after Malappuram (26,044) and Kozhikode (22,371), as of August 24. While the government data paints a reassuring picture, many major hospitals in Kochi told TNM that there are hardly any vacant ventilator or ICU beds available. This comes amid growing concerns that the state is likely to see a surge in COVID-19 cases in the aftermath of the recent Onam celebrations in the state.

As per the data published by the government in the COVID-19 Jagratha portal, 56.91% of the ICU beds (284 out of 499 beds) and 62.04% ventilator beds (152 out of 245) across government and private hospitals are occupied in Ernakulam, as on August 26. This leaves 215 ICU beds and 93 ventilator beds for COVID-19 patients. According to the government website, there are 54 private hospitals and 10 government hospitals providing COVID-19 treatment in the district.

When TNM contacted many private hospitals listed on the COVID-19 Jagratha portal, 12 super speciality hospitals, mostly, in and around Kochi city said they have run out of beds in their hospitals. Though other hospitals have vacant beds, it was mostly fewer than what is shown on the COVID-19 Jagratha portal. A few other private hospitals and the Ernakulam Government Medical College said that the data published in the portal is correct.

For example, per the government website, as of 4 pm on August 26, seven out of the 20 ICU beds and five out of 13 ventilator beds in Renai Medicity were vacant. However, the hospital officials told TNM that all beds are occupied. Similarly, on Tuesday, August 24, Aster Medcity and Medical Trust hospital, two other super speciality hospitals in Kochi, also said they did not have any vacant beds for COVID-19 treatment. The government data for that day, on the other hand, showed nine of 20 ICU beds in Aster and five out of 15 ICU beds in Medical Trust were vacant. Meanwhile, seven out of the 15 ventilator beds in Aster and two out of the eight in the Medical Trust were vacant.

Meanwhile, in Lisie Hospital, beds are on the brink of reporting a shortage of beds for COVID-19 patients. As per the hospital data, on Wednesday, August 25, only one out of 12 ICU beds was vacant, while both its ventilator beds were occupied. The hospital officials said their data was consistent with the government data. Al Shifa Hospital at Kalamassery also confirmed the Jagaratha portal’s data, showing all eight ICU beds are vacant.

“We have been getting many calls asking if there are vacant beds,” said a spokesperson of Renai Medicity. “Incidentally, such calls were frequent during the peak of the second wave of COVID-19 infections. However, compared to the second wave, calls are less now,” said the Public Relations Officer of Lisie Hospital, which has been receiving calls enquiring about vacant beds since Sunday, August 22.

The glaring inconsistencies
Some of the inconsistencies in the vacant bed data are glaring. For instance, while the Jagratha website said two ICU beds at the CA Hospital in Aluva were vacant, the hospital authorities told TNM that it has not set aside any ICU and ventilator beds for COVID-19 patients. The other private hospitals, too, have reported differences in the bed vacancy data. Similarly, the government data from B&B Memorial Hospital in Thrikkakara showed all 12 ICU beds vacant, while the hospital said it has earmarked only six ICU beds in total.

MAJ Hospital at Edapally said it has allotted a total of 20 ICU beds (three vacant), while the website said the hospital has a total of 20 beds (13 vacant). As per the hospital and Jagratha portal, all six ventilator beds are vacant. Similarly, Laxmi hospital in Kochi has allocated a total of five ICU beds (three vacant) and four ventilator beds (two vacant). However, the website showed a total of seven ICU beds (five vacant) and two ventilator beds (one vacant).

‘Health infrastructure intact’
On August 25, Wednesday, 4,048 people in Ernakulam district tested positive for coronavirus. Though many hospitals have already run out of critical care beds and some are hanging on to the few beds, government authorities said there is no need to panic.

Speaking to TNM, Ernakulam District Medical Officer Dr NK Kuttappan said that the district is equipped to handle COVID-19 patients even if the active count rises to one lakh. “We made a surge plan and have been working accordingly. If need arises, facilities are such that we can expand the number of beds in hospitals,” he said.

Resident Medical Officer of Government Medical College Hospital in Ernakulam, Dr Ganesh Mohan, said that the COVID-19 situation in the district cannot be assessed by merely looking at the numbers of beds. “Patient in-flow and out-flow is a dynamic process. The portal might show there are no vacant beds today, but the following day, after the morning rounds, some beds will get vacant as some patients get discharged. New patients fill the beds. However, when we see the portal the next day, the number of vacant beds will remain zero. This does not mean new patients are not admitted,” said Dr Ganesh.

An official of Lakeshore Hospital in Kochi held the same view. “After the peak of the second wave, we reduced the number of critical care beds. But if cases peak, we can smoothly increase the number of beds,” said the official.

However, some hospitals where beds are mostly occupied shared concerns that once cases increase, it might take a toll on their non-COVID-19 critical care. “We are one of the hospitals where non-COVID-19 ICU beds are occupied most of the time,” said an official of a private hospital in Kochi. “If we have to increase the number of ICU beds for COVID-19 patients when the cases rise, it will be difficult to manage non-COVID-19 ICU.” Incidentally, people from other districts and states come to Ernakulam for treatment, as the district has most of the super speciality hospitals in the state.

After almost three months, on Wednesday, August 25, Kerala’s daily COVID-19 cases crossed 30,000. Onam, the most popular and celebrated festival in the state, ended on August 23. Owing to the shopping and celebrations in the days leading upto the festival, the state government had relaxed the weekend (Sunday) lockdown in Kerala last week. Though directions were given to prevent crowding in public places, this was not found to be followed in most places. Kerala Health Minister Veena George, on August 23, cautioned the state that the public and officials need to be utmost careful in the coming few days.

In an interview with NDTV, Dr Sulphi Noohu, state President-elect, IMA Kerala, said the vaccination is a game-changer in hospital admissions across Kerala. “The COVID-19 cases in Kerala are likely to increase in view of the Onam celebrations. It will be a cause for concern if ICU admissions are high. However, most of the patients who are on ventilator support are unvaccinated,” he said.

Ernakulam has set a target to vaccinate 29,38,117 people above 18 years of age, the highest among other districts in Kerala. Of this, 83% of the beneficiaries have received their first dose, which is while 27% of them are fully vaccinated with two doses, as of August 25. The News Minute