Sion Hospital, a major tertiary hospital, is strategically located at the junction of two express highways, in the middle of three major railway tracts and adjacent to the biggest slum of Asia, namely, Dharavi.
Hence, every possible casualty is directed to the hospital -- whether they be highway accidents or railway accidents or disasters - natural as well as manmade! People falling out of running trains, and road accident victims are also taken to the Sion Hospital and are treated on an emergency basis.
The hospital is the main source of medical help for a huge population of Mumbai living in the slums, the “poorest among the poor”, who opt for this free of charge hospital for every illness and emergency. All these factors lead to a disproportionately large demand on the emergency services of the hospital even at normal times.
Twenty years ago, an idea was floated to upgrade the Casualty to Emergency Medical Services (EMS). The work on building an EMS began in 2000 and it was ready by 2003. The existing 10,000 sq. ft. lobby was modified and every room and space was built in conformity with the highest quality medical care specifications.
Yet, with a burgeoning population, the EMS, like the rest of the city, is now overcrowded and faces a space crunch. We learn that a total reconstruction of the hospital was planned, but the idea has not taken off yet. To demolish a functioning hospital that is already over-crowded and under pressure and to rebuild it, without inconveniencing patients, is a huge challenge!
So, the EMS bravely continues with its herculean task, with doctors of all departments -- medicine, surgery and anaesthesia, working together 24x7, to stabilise, investigate and manage all emergency patients. With four operation theatres running, all beds full and more waiting for admission, the work at the EMS, continues non-stop. Crowded government and municipal hospitals and a dearth of beds has been a reality for decades; but those who did not need these services never knew or cared.
With Covid-19, and the fear that anyone infected may be taken to a government facility, you see a hue and cry on social media over videos leaked to sensationalise the issue.
With Covid-19, the number of admissions has increased exponentially. This further overloads the already over-worked EMS, leading to approximately 16 patients being admitted in a space meant for four persons. Yet, every time there is a challenge, it is the Sion Hospital that rises to face it – the hospital is also adding 200 beds to its already overstretched capacity.
The Golden Rule at the hospital is “Never say ‘No’ to anybody”. Sion Hospital never refuses admission, unlike private hospitals, which turn away patients, when full. It has always made it a policy to accommodate everybody and that requires medical attention. Most often, the patient does not complain, they are relieved to get admission and wait for a bed to become available.
The number of patients has skyrocketed due to Covid-19 (today’s figures are not available). Yet the doctors continue to work relentlessly, with no fuss, with whatever space and facilities are available and silently fulfil their duty to society.
P.S: A total of 1,075,871 patients had been treated at the EMS, till May 2019, including 1,72,188 major emergency surgeries.
(Dr Neela Patwardhan, an ophthalmologist is an alumnus of Sion Hospital and Dr Shanti Pantvaidya is the former HOD Anaesthesia, Sion Hospital)