For Balbir Singh, 54, co-owner of Sukhmani Hospital, a 35-bed facility in Safdarjung Enclave, the novel coronavirus pandemic has brought unprecedented distress. “Since the virus hit the city, the number of OPD patients in the hospital has fallen from around 100 a day to 15-20 now. Patient admissions used to be three to four a day but now there is hardly any patient being hospitalised,” said Dr. Singh.
His is not the only tale of woe. Sunil Kumar Jain of Pentamed Hospital, a 30-bed hospital in Model Town, said that revenue is down by half. Vandana Gupta, who runs Agarwal Hospital in Pitampura, a 30-bed neonatal ICU facility, said hardly four-five people visit the OPD daily now, compared to 10-15 people earlier.
Dr. Singh said it makes “more sense” to close the facility at this point. “But we cannot do that as the government has asked us to be functional. We are currently incurring losses,” he said. On April 17, the Delhi government had issued an order that all hospitals should maintain full operations and try to accommodate the load of those which have been declared as dedicated COVID hospitals.
Since the outbreak of the virus, more than 300 small hospitals with less than 50 beds and catering to non-COVID-19 patients have been suffering a loss of revenue of around 50-60%, according to multiple doctors who own such hospitals, including Mr. Singh. The same has also been confirmed by the Delhi Medical Association (DMA).
“Non-COVID patients are reluctant to go to hospitals as they are afraid and do so only in case of an emergency. While health workers seek higher pay, beds are vacant and hospitals are earning less,” said DMA president Dr. Girish Tyagi.
The loss of income has led to the DMA seeking assistance from the Delhi government, given that the latter has directed such hospitals to remain functional. About 80% owners of such hospitals are doctors and most of them are elderly, said Dr. Rajender Sharma, chairman of DMA’s nursing home forum.
“We had requested the Chief Minister to at least provide PPE kits to these hospitals, as they do in government hospitals, and also provide sanitisers at subsidised rates. We had also urged the government to reduce electricity bills and property tax, but they are yet to reply to the requests,” said Dr. Sharma.
Adjusting to reality
“We have reduced salaries of some senior doctors by 20%, but not lower-level employees who earn less,” said Dr. Singh.
“We admit suspected COVID-19 patients and staff attending to them are paid extra. Also, earlier 100-150 visited the OPD daily, now it is down to 30-50 people. Also daily surgeries are down from four-five to one or sometimes none,” said Dr. Jain of Pentamed Hospital. He said patients are self-treating or go to the chemist to procure medicines. “The incidence of many diseases has also come down as people are not stepping out or eating food from outside,” he said.
“In March and April, there were no OPD services. In May and June, they have picked up, but we are still running 50-60% short. Out of a staff strength of 70-80, only 40 are working and they stay in the hospital building. The rest are still on the rolls — we will pay them once they are back, including perhaps a part of their lockdown dues. We are still figuring it out,” said Dr. Gupta of Agarwal Hospital.
Both Mr. Singh and Mr. Jain said many employees are not willing to join duty due to the acute COVID-19 situation in the Capital. All three owners said they have started virtual consultation after the virus outbreak, but it is yet to pick up.
Mr. Singh said he initially started it via Zoom and then switched to WhatsApp. “But that is only two to three in a day. We started doing video consultation only after lockdown,” he added.
“I have also started WhatsApp consultation, but that’s only one or two patients a day,” said Mr. Jain.
Ms. Gupta said they started tele-consultation at normal OPD charges after the nationwide lockdown kicked in. “But only our old patients who know us do it. There are no new patients for it,” she said.