Are The City Hospitals Safe Havens?

Bhubaneswar: Hospitals are meant to cure and protect patients and their caretakers but not expose them to hazards. The recent fire at Apollo Hospitals turned out to be the latter. Once again, it brought to the fore the lackadaisical attitude of government official towards healthcare facilities as city residents relived the horror of the Sum Hospital Fire of 2016 that claimed 26 lives.

The picture, especially in government hospitals, is quite contrary to official claims regarding adherence to fire safety norms. According to the Health and Family Welfare Department, there are 134 major private and 423 government registered hospitals across the state. A majority of them are located in the Odisha capital, including Capital Hospital, Municipal Hospital, AIIMS, AMRI, Apollo, KIMS, Aditya Care, Sunshine Hospitals, Vivekananda Hospital and Hemalata among others.

As per fire safety norms, all such major establishments should have an emergency response system, carbon dioxide flooding system, smoke extraction system, fire damper in AC ducts, sprinklers and fire-rated doors. It is also mandatory to conduct periodic drills of the officials at the institutions to prevent fire related incidents.

It is the duty of the healthcare institutions to conduct the drills and keep the equipment ready while the fire services personnel should ensure that norms are adhered to. The urban development or the local authorities should check whether there is adequate fire prevention system in the building or not.

Soon after the Apollo Hospital fire incident, Twin City Police Commissioner Satyajit Mohanty said that fire safety audit will be conducted at every hospital. “The audit will be conducted by the fire services department and in case of violation, strict action will be taken.”

Till the time that happens, here is a reality check.

Consider this. Capital Hospital, which receives more than 5000 patients a day and has a capacity to accommodate 700 inpatients, has only 20 fire extinguishers.

Besides, there has never been a safety drill and the electrical fittings have never been checked for any flaw. “We have requested the government to allot more fire extinguishers. We are also planning to install a water sprinkler and install an underground water tank to fight any fire related incident,” said hospital Superintendent, Ashok Pattnaik.

The All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) on the other hand, with a capacity to accommodate 750 inpatients, is quite well equipped to tackle any fire related incident, said its administrators. The institute has a whopping 200 fire extinguishers along with water sprinklers and a smoke detection system.

 “We have a dedicated team to conduct mock drills and periodic checking of the fire alarm system. Our technical team with the expertise from the Central Public Works Department also checks the electrical fittings on a regular basis. We have put measures in place,” said a senior institute administrator.

The situation in the Municipal Hospital in Old Town area is quite dismal. Though small, thousands of residents living in Ekamrakhestra depend on this hospital. Apart from inadequate infrastructure and doctors, this hospital has no fire-fighting equipment.

Hospital Chief Municipal Medical Officer Nirod Sahu said that the municipal corporation is taking steps to improve the facilities at the hospital. “Presently, we do not have a single fire extinguisher or any other equipment to fight a fire but soon, we will get things ready,” said the chief medical officer.

AMRI Security Advisor Akshay Das said they are prepared to tackle any such emergency situation. “We have prepared a standard operating procedure for our officials as well as the patients to follow during an emergency. We have over 300 fire extinguishers and other equipment in place,” said Das.

Private hospitals in the city were reluctant to talk about their preparedness. “A majority of people depend on government hospitals. They should equip themselves since a single such event will draw a disastrous result,” said social worker, Alok Kar.

Under the given circumstances, one can only hope that the twin city Police Commissioner carries out the safety audit as early as possible. It is important that the audit be followed up with appropriate action before there is another fire accident.

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