Doctors at various government hospitals say that there is a dire need to increase the number of cold storage units.

As COVID-19 deaths rise in Bengaluru doctors demand more morgue facilities
Coronavirus Coronavirus Monday, July 13, 2020 - 17:24

On Sunday evening, Bengaluru city alone reported 45 deaths due to COVID-19. Over the last few weeks, the number of patients with COVID-19 succumbing to the illness has increased in Bengaluru. Mortuaries at government hospitals are running out of cold storage units to keep bodies of deceased patients, doctors in various government hospitals told TNM. 

With 40 mortuary units, Victoria Hospital in Bengaluru has the highest number of cold storage units in the city. Bowring and Lady Curzon Hospital have six units, KC General Hospital has a mere four units. There are 11 government hospitals in Bengaluru with mortuaries; except for Victoria Hospital, the number of units in other hospitals are in single digits, said Dr Chandrashekar from Victoria Hospital. 

“Victoria Hospital does not have enough room to house a lot of deceased patients now. There are three or four vacant units now, but that will not be sufficient. There have been times when the morgue was full and we could not take more bodies. These had to be sent to private hospitals. There is a problem with shortage of units,” a doctor at Victoria hospital said.

Apart from government hospitals, there are private medical colleges to house the bodies of COVID-19 patients as well, the doctor said.

“These are MS Ramaiah Hospital, St John's Medical College Hospital and Akash Institute of Medical Sciences. So far, deceased patients in other private hospitals were transported to mortuaries in government hospitals. We are trying to rope in more private hospitals to provide mortuary facilities for COVID-19 patients,” he added, pointing out that the morgue not only houses deceased COVID-19 patients but also those involved in medico-legal cases. 

“So once the morgue is full, it takes two days to ensure that there are vacancies. This can all be managed quickly and efficiently,” he said. 

Speaking to TNM, Dr Vaghese, in-charge of the mortuary at St John's Hospital said that there are 20 units at the hospital's morgue and that six of them are vacant. 

“The reason mortuaries are full is because of lack of coordination. In many cases, the immediate family members of deceased patients would have also contracted the illness and in isolation. In such a situation, they would be unable to claim the body. Unless the bodies are identified and claimed, it cannot be sent for burial as per the protocol. This system needs to become smoother,” Dr Varghese explained. 

According to Dr Ramesh Krishna, Principal Medical Superintendent at Victoria Hospital, in all cases of death, the doctors are left to inform the families and ensure that the protocol is followed. 

“In many cases, the permanent addresses given on the ID cards of patients are different from their current address. This requires more time to track down family members and inform them. Doctors are overworked and if the BBMP (Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike) comes up with a smoother mechanism to identify families of the deceased and inform families, our job will be seamless,” Dr Ramesh said. 

Doctors at Bowring and Lady Curzon Hospital and KC General Hospital said that it takes at least one day to contact the families due to various logistical issues. 

“For instance, there was a case last week where a patient from Somasundarapalya had passed away. His family members had given their permanent address during registration with BBMP, which was in Avenue Road. We have to identify the zone, call respective health officers according to protocol. When we found out that the zone was different in this patient's case, we had to make more calls and then inform the family. These extra issues are easy to solve if there is a smoother way to handle it,” a doctor at KC General Hospital said. 

According to Dr Ramesh Krishna, a meeting was held last week where a decision was made to add extra cold storage units to increase the capacity of mortuaries in government hospitals. “At Victoria, we are planning to add 30-40 more units to increase capacity by the end of the month. We will have one doctor monitoring the mortuary at any given point of time and this will be open 24 hours so families can claim the bodies at any time,” he added.  

However, Dr Varghese said that the number of units in a morgue should be 10 percent of the total number of beds available in the hospital. “If the hospital has 120 beds, then there have to be 12 units in the morgue. What we need is one facility with more units. There is stigma surrounding hospitals which house COVID-19 patients in morgues. If there is one larger facility, the process can be smoother, and it can take the load off hospitals — both government and private ones,” Dr Varghese suggested.

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