Monetize and modernize dilapidated hospitals

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The flooding of the 750 bed Nalanda Medical College and Hospital in Patna, spread over some 100 acres of land, would have been hilarious had it not been so tragic. Various TV channels showed visuals of fish swimming about in the knee deep water that had flooded the emergency ICU of the hospital, and also several wards. The patients' beds were marooned in water and the attendants were somehow managing to stay above the swirling waters.

What the TV channels did not show was that along with the flood waters, snakes, scorpions and leeches had come into the hospital posing a threat to the patients, attendants, paramedical staff and doctors. Also, the prolonged flooding had created the risk of electrocution, due to which all equipment had to be switched off.

The situation occurred just because the hospital is located on low-lying land and one of the drains was choked.

Even as one was aghast at this state of affairs in Patna, the capital city of Bihar, news came from the national capital New Delhi that the famous Sucheta Kriplani hospital's building was unsafe and was a threat to the patients' lives. This more than 100 years old building was built in the arch-style in the second decade of the 20th century, and its arches, and also the reinforcements done over the years, are totally rusted and of no use. The building is so dilapidated that its roofs can fall on the patients any time. It was a report by the Central Public Works Department (CPWD) that sounded the urgent warning that the building is liable to collapse and patients' lives are at risk. Similar warnings have been sounded about this hospital earlier, but have fallen on deaf ears.

These two reports are only reflective of the sad state of infrastructure in our health care sector. The acute shortage of doctors and paramedical staff afflicts not just our primary health care, but also the new All India Institutes of Medical Sciences that are being set up. But, the fact that the physical infrastructure has gone not just to seed, but also to rot, poses a gigantic problem that will take quite some doing to solve.

The Bihar Chief Minister Mr Nitish Kumar did visit the Nalanda Hospital once the news about the fish swimming about in the swirling waters in the hospital's wards went viral. He told the media that the guilty will be punished. This leads us to the very pertinent question: Where does the buck stop?

The crumbling state of the Sucheta Kriplani hospital, right under the nose of the central government can only go unnoticed if those running healthcare in the country are working in silos. It is a case of trying to implement grandiose schemes even as the basics are being ignored.

No matter how good the intentions may be, like in the case of the grand Ayushman Bharat scheme, the devil will always lie in the implementation. If implementation, in other words governance, remains shoddy, little can be achieved which is worthwhile.

A point to be noted is that the Nalanda hospital was located on a massive 100 acres of land, a large part of which is not properly utilized. If an institution is having such a huge property, finance should be its least worry. Why, then, have proper measures not been taken to protect the hospital from the flood waters?

Why could not the state government correct the drainage issues before the rains came? After all, certain installations, including health facilities, must be protected on a priority basis.

The Sucheta Kriplani hospital, too, is located in the heart of Delhi, very near the seat of power. It is located on very prime piece of land. The Central government has pulled down several government colonies in South Delhi, and built huge commercial and residential complexes there through the medium of the National Building Construction Corporation.

If the Sucheta Kriplani Hospital is falling to pieces, it is time for the Central government to make a policy to allow all such old hospitals, in the government or private sector, to pull down their dilapidated buildings, monetize their real estate, and with the money thus garnered, create world class medical facilities where the patients will be safe and cared for.

Good governance consists of turning your challenge into an opportunity. Rather than waiting for a tragedy to occur, the relics of the early part of the previous century must make way for modern hospitals for the good of the health of our citizens.


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