Soumen Bose ( a citizen), who was upset, clung to a doctor and pressed for answers. He was perfectly entitled to do so. Leena Bose, his mother, would have undergone the bone marrow procedure three days prior. But a string of occurrences caused a delay. “Doctor, what did you tell us? A syringe wasn’t available that day. We were informed that you fell ill the next day.
Look at what occurred today. She is gone. Doctor, she was suffocated to death. This is the hospital that you had recommended to us,” sobbed a heartbroken Bose. The doctor, who wished to remain anonymous, was in a haze himself and was at a loss for words. “Did I know that this was going to happen?” he asked quietly as he stood on the second-floor landing of the old building.
That’s only an instance of a family who suffered such a loss; however, the list of victims is enormous. Kolkata, and the entire nation, were in for a major shock on December 9, 2011, in the morning. On that terrible morning, an accident killed more than 90 people, including elderly patients who were in various stages of treatment and recuperation, at the AMRI hospital in Dhakuria, south of Kolkata.
It took the hospital administration about two hours to call the fire brigade after the fire started at around 3 AM. The cause of this strange delay appears to be a previous fire that occurred on October 8, two months prior, in the basement of the same building. The security guard who swiftly called the fire station at that time faced the wrath of the hospital administration and was suspended for two weeks. Thus, before calling the fire department this time, the crew reportedly made an attempt to put out the fire themselves. Finally, they had to give up on their attempt and call the firefighters. The fire brigade arrived at the scene after traversing the congested and overcrowded roads in this bustling neighborhood but had already spent critical time and was underprepared.
The hospital’s fire alarm system was reportedly sabotaged by smokers, thus it was inoperable. Additionally, it has come to light that the hospital’s accreditation had not been renewed by the National Accreditation Board for Hospitals and Healthcare Providers (NABH), the highest body that grants accreditation to hospitals, and it is because the establishment did not meet the necessary fire security and other safety standards.
The hospital’s basement had become a veritable dumping ground for radiation equipment and various flammable chemicals. According to reports, the hospital was warned by the fire department during an inspection in the month of July, and hospital administration made a commitment to clean the basement in two months. No follow-up was ever done. The hospital also lacked the necessary safety clearance from the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board for two new machines it had just acquired for its radiology unit, according to the NABH CEO. The AMRI management flagrantly disregarded fundamental human principles even in the face of the horrific dance of death after consistently breaking all applicable laws and regulations.
Locals who were the first to risk their lives to run to the scene and offer assistance were turned away. The patient’s family members who frantically attempted to save their loved ones were stopped and told to pay any outstanding debts first. While some AMRI employees also perished in the catastrophe, the majority of the organization’s top management was noticeably absent from the event, offering meaningless condolence messages and attempting to appease the irate public by providing some meager recompense for the deceased.
The lessons learned from the AMRI catastrophe are rather simple for the people of Kolkata and all of India. We must free healthcare services from the lethal fumes of corporate greed if we hope to avert a new catastrophe. The business-politics nexus must not be permitted to play games with people’s fundamental rights to health and education. These rights must be preserved as fundamental freedoms of the people.