War on Coronavirus: Private hospitals setting up isolation wards, adding ventilators

With the number of coronavirus-infected patients in the country likely to rise, private hospitals are scaling up arrangements for both testing and treatment.

Apollo Hospitals, with a pan-India network of over 70 hospitals and over 10,000 beds, has allocated around 250-300 beds specifically for COVID-19 patients.

The hospital chain is setting up isolation rooms in five cities by the end of this week. Those who can afford it will be asked to pay for treatment at these isolation centres, but the hospital will not turn away any patients. Beds will be allotted on a first come, first serve basis.

Apollo is well-stocked with ventilators, CNBC-TV18 learns from sources. It has
around 1000 ventilators, with an unspecified number allocated for COVID-19 cases. The allocation could rise as more ventilators are now idle due to a drop in other surgeries. Apollo Hospitals is also rolling out testing of COVID-19 in four labs, and the number of kits will be ramped up shortly.

However, some hospitals fear the infection spreading to current patients who are being treated for admitted for other conditions. Some hospitals are coming up Many with innovative solutions for this problem.

For example, due to the travel ban, the number of overseas patients has fallen sharply. Hence lodges and hotels close to hospitals which is where many of the overseas patients usually reside, are now vacant and being converted into isolation wards.

These isolation wards are just that, to isolate patients with little or no provision for ventilators and other ICU machines.

That according to the head of one of the leading hospital chains, is sufficient. He points out that most COVID-19 patients require only bed rest with pain killers and other medication. Their main requirement is facilities without air conditioners and enough ventilation. In such cases, these empty hotels and lodges work well.

In addition, unused or defunct facilities at hospitals are being converted into COVID-19 isolation wards. For example, a 100-bed facility equipped with ventilators, dialysis machines has been set up at the SevenHills Hospital in Mumbai The other example is the AIIMS hospital at Jhajjar, Haryana which has set aside 800 beds specifically for treating COVID-19 patients.

Similarly, industry heads point out that the Ayurvedic building of the Ramaiah Medical College in Bengaluru and 50 bed-hospitals in the suburbs of Bengaluru owned by Narayana Health can be repurposed as COVID-19 treatment centres.

While hospitals are allocating beds for treatment of COVID-19, other issues remain.

Ventilators are scarce and the shortfall is estimated around 60,000 to 1 lakh across the country.

But expectations are that the gap will be bridged, with many hospitals having placed orders with domestic manufacturers like Skanray, which in are ramping up their production.

The other issue is that of personnel shortage. The head of a hospital chain points out that only younger healthcare workers should treat COVID-19 patients as they are less susceptible to catching the infection. More so, this pool will have to be trained to handle more complex cases as many require ICU care and lastly they should be willing to handle COVID-19 cases as well.

Like many other sectors, revenues of hospitals too have been hit by the disruption from the epidemic. Almost all hospitals have shut their out patient departments (OPD). These include high profile names in the metros.

Elective surgeries are down to nil, a Bengaluru-based hospital chain head told CNBC-TV18. These elective surgeries form around 60-70 percent of all surgeries in a hospital, says a report by broking firm Edelweiss.

The other slowdown is seen in overseas patients which comprise of over 10-12 percent of revenues on an average for large hospital chains. Most hospitals are only servicing emergency cases and existing patients. For multi-speciality hospitals these emergency and existing patient cases are around 40-50 percent of occupancies. Speciality hospitals such as Healthcare Global Enterprises which focus on oncology, too have seen a reduction of 25-30 percent in new patients.

Dr Ajai Kumar, chairman & CEO of HealthCare Global fears that many cancer patients might delay diagnosis, leading to complications later on.

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