The fire that broke out in the AMRI hospital in Calcutta, is now believed to have killed almost 90 patients (and the death toll keeps mounting). There were no doctors or staff among the dead, because they had all fled, locking the patients inside! Apparently, they had been given instructions not to let the patients go because their bills had not been cleared yet! This hospital with the ironical name of ‘Advanced Medical Research Institute’ is one of the largest, up-scale, private hospitals in the city, and treatment here does not come cheap!!! I know because, my father (who has passed on) was suffering from cancer and was under-going radiotherapy there.
What my family didn’t know then, was that the basement, where the fire broke out, and where they have the radiotherapy room, was actually being illegally used. The basement area was meant to be a garage!! We learnt that from the news reports now! Which means in addition to the tragedy this hospital’s directors have already caused to their patients and their families, they probably have also unleashed a radioactive environmental hazard on the city.
My father who was a resident patient in the Command Hospital in the city, being an ex- Indian army officer. However, were not happy at all with the doctors and services in the Command hospital and had tried to shift him into AMRI as a resident patient on numerous occasions. But he had refused. According to him, the doctors at AMRI were worse than the ones in Command Hospital, because while they were giving him his radiotherapy in the basement, they would be chatting over his head, and consuming tea and samosas! This is in the radiotherapy room while his treatment was in progress!
Besides the unprofessional-ism, the hospital was clearly devious flouting all safety rules and regulations. They also illegally used the basement as storage place for bio-hazardous chemicals and wastes! They also had diesel stockpiled there — a fire accelerator, for their generators! And none of their fire-safety equipments—sprinklers, smoke detectors etc. were in working order!
I had my interaction with AMRI, when 2 years ago I went for a filling to their dental department. I had made a prior appointment, and when I got there I was impressed with the efficiency with which my forms were filled, my payment received, my cash memo and other patient details handed to me in a folder, and clear directions given as to which floor I should go and wait for my dentist to call for me. I got to that floor and found that there was no one in at the reception desk there! I asked around, and was told to wait. I waited 1 hour and asked someone who looked like a doctor. He did not know my dentists name! But told me to wait further. Maybe he was busy. Finally someone showed up a the reception, who also had no record of my appointment in the register there. I showed him all the paper work they had given me for my money in the floor below. Then he said, “Wait,” and went and found someone, who I hope was a dentist there. This person took me into the dental chamber, and was very pleasant. She was done in less than 10 minutes. In about 10 days that dental filling fell out! I called the hospital and finally when someone at the dental reception picked up the phone, they weren’t sure about who I was speaking about!!
This is the other odd thing I’ve discovered about big expensive private hospitals in India. They run like large, up-scale commercial brothels. The hospital rooms and facilities are rented out by the month or by the hour (as in the case of the Operation Theaters) to whichever doctor wants to rent them. So a doctor could be renting in a number of hospitals in the city. Basically, there are a group of businessmen who own and run the hospital and don’t know and don’t care about who the doctors are who rent, what rules they flout, nor do they bother with the idea of customer service, customer complaints or customer satisfaction. They only care about grabbing and hoarding money! And they don’t care who they kill and trample over in the process. Just take a look at the list of the six directors of AMRI who have been arrested: R.S. Goenka, Prashant Goenka, Ravi Todi, S.K. Todi, Manish Goenka, and D.N. Agarwal. These are some of the biggest, commercial family-businesses in India.
India has set itself up for commercial exploitation in the most ruthless and unscrupulous way. Why does it happen? Because we as citizens and a society allow for it! Almost 30 years ago, an American company, Union Carbide, similarly flouted all safety norms in their factory, and unleashed a gas that poisoned an entire city (Bhopal), killed thousands, injured thousands, and left thousands permanently disabled and/or with genetic disorders. The government of India gave it a safe passage out. The company never accepted responsibility for what it did. It was bought by Dow Chemicals, that now claims it has nothing to do with the human disaster unleashed on Bhopal! Compare that with what happened when due to negligence by British Petroleum, 11 American were killed. President Obama had the CEO of BP groveling and dishing out an apology to the American victim’s families and the nation and made sure that they will be adequately compensated with a $20 billion dollar fund put in place by BP.
This is exactly what India needs to do with all businesses, national, and Multinational operating on its soil! Put them on a good, solid leash! And when they act up, give that leash a good, strong pull – till you’ve trained them just the way you’d train your dog!