Twenty-eight-year-old Pradeep Kumar, a Chennai-based journalist, took to Twitter on Wednesday to describe how the 'care' provided at a COVID-19 centre in Velachery, run by the Chennai Corporation, proved to be a nightmare for him and his 61-year-old mother. From unflushed toilets to lack of storage facilities for insulin shots, the centre had unhygienic conditions, he says. Both patients, who have diabetes, eventually left the centre, fearing their condition will get worse after their complaints went unattended. Hours after the tweets, the Chennai Corporation apologised for the inconvenience and responded with images to show that the complaint was taken seriously and the centre was cleaned.
Speaking to TNM, Pradeep explains that after suffering from COVID-19 symptoms such as fever and cough for two days, he and his mother tested positive for the virus on May 10 (Monday). The following day, the duo went to a Corporation-run screening centre in Guindy. From there, authorities shifted them to the Guru Nanak school, where a temporary COVID-19 care centre has been set up. Despite their hesitation, authorities allegedly insisted they go to the centre as they had co-morbidities and couldn't quarantine at their house in Nanganallur.
According to local health officials, there are close to 200 patients in the centre, with one floor allocated to just women.
"I was shocked when we got there. The beds were all so close together and COVID-19 patients were walking around without even masks," he says. "To make matters worse, the centre was not even equipped to handle patients with comorbidities. All beverages that we received had sugar (which is not acceptable for diabetics). While we don't expect high-quality food, we found it completely lacking in basic nutrients. We could barely eat the food but had no choice as we had to eat medicines," he explains.
The less said about the food served here, the better. Excessively salty and high sugar in the milk, turmeric milk and the tea that is given. This is a big problem for diabetics like me. I have been here since last night and already I'm itching to run away. I couldn't eat the food pic.twitter.com/q4MDhKBlC1— Pradeep Kumar (@pkayy92) May 12, 2021
To make matters worse, the centre allegedly did not even have a refrigerator or any form of cold storage to store insulin injections for Pradeep's mother. Despite his requests to the authorities there, no solution was offered in the matter.
"Using the urinal or toilet meant having to wade through clogged up faecal water, with floating sputum on it. Our feet smell of urine when we exit the toilet," Pradeep said on Twitter, with pictures to support his complaint.
Finally, after several discussions with his local ward official, he was able to get permission to quarantine at his residence.
"My mother and I left the centre at noon on May 12. We were scared our condition would get worse if we stayed there," he says, back at his residence in Nanganallur. "But we could only leave after signing a letter that we were going against the doctor's advice," he adds.
"The essence of COVID-19 care and recovery is to at least provide the patient with a hospitable and hygienic environment," says Pradeep, adding, "We see pictures of COVID care centres in Kerala. We are not expecting those standards, but at least don't make patients regret every second of their recovery."
When TNM contacted local health authorities from Zone 14, we were informed that the Health officer was at the centre, monitoring the situation after being alerted about Pradeep’s complaint. While the journalist's complaints have been attended to and the centre immediately cleaned, it must be noted that the Chennai Corporation has received immense praise for its responsiveness to residents of the city. This is at a time when cases are surging in Chennai and the load on the system is increasing by the day. Several people who had experiences with the civic body after testing positive for COVID-19 have hailed the frontline workers for their quick help and the well-planned coordination on ground.
Meghanath Reddy, Deputy Commissioner of the Chennai Corporation, tweeted: “Our zonal team paid a visit to the Covid Care Centre at Guru Nanak College and rectified the housekeeping issues. @chennaicorp will endeavour to provide the best possible facilities.”