Ennore gas leak victims say hospital discharged them even as they struggled to breathe

Periyakuppam residents allege that besides discharging them in haste, Akash Hospital is withholding their medical reports. TNM reached out to the hospital but didn’t receive a comment.
Victims of Ammonia gas leak in Ennore, Chennai
Victims of Ammonia gas leak in Ennore, ChennaiNidharshana Raju
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Victims of the ammonia gas leak from the Coromandel International Limited (CIL) facility in Ennore have alleged that the private hospital they were admitted to discharged them without allowing them time to recover, and is not handing over their scans, X-rays, and other medical reports despite repeated requests. On the night of December 26, when the gas leak took place, up to 44 people were admitted to Akash Hospital, a private hospital located almost six kilometres away from Periyakuppam – the fishing hamlet most affected due to its proximity to CIL. Several residents of Periyakuppam have alleged that the doctors at the hospital hurriedly discharged them on December 30, although they were still suffering from the ill-effects of the leak.

TNM spoke to Desarani, a resident of Periyakuppam, who said she is yet to recover from the disaster. “Around 11.40 pm on December 26, I suddenly found myself unable to breathe. My sons took me to the hospital on a two-wheeler, but I had fainted as soon as I stepped out of the house,” she recalled. 

Desarani was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), three days after which the doctors declared her fine and said she could be discharged. “But I was still struggling to breathe, and when I requested them to extend my hospitalisation, they refused to do so. Upon returning home, I started vomiting and fainted again, so I was rushed back to the hospital,” she said, still gasping for air between words. 

“What was the hurry? Was the hospital under pressure to discharge us to show that the effects of the leak were minimal? This makes us wonder if the government and the authorities are choosing the company over so many of our lives,” she said.

Kumar, an Oor Nirvagi (administrator of a traditional, non-governmental welfare body) of the Periyakuppam village, alleged that besides Desarani, three other people who were above the age of 60 were discharged from the hospital within two to three days, despite not having recovered fully. “They were forced to go to other hospitals, such as the Government Stanley Hospital, for further treatment because of this,” he said. 

But at these other hospitals, they had to produce their medical reports from the night of the gas leak, which Akash Hospital allegedly continues to withhold. Celcha, another gas leak victim from Periyakuppam who was discontent with her hasty discharge, said Akash Hospital still hasn’t handed over her scans and X-rays. “They only gave me the prescription and withheld my chest scan and X-ray. I asked them once, but they did not give me the scans then. Later, as I was still finding it difficult to breathe and we wanted to approach another doctor for a second opinion, my husband went back to Akash Hospital to collect them. They told my husband they will give the reports in three days, but it has been ten days since,” she added.

TNM spoke to almost 10 people who were hospitalised, and all of them had similar experiences to share. “Our livelihood has taken a hit since the cyclone in December. There was the CPCL oil spill and then the gas leak, and we haven’t ventured into the sea ever since. We have had no income at all for 40 days now. The private hospitals nearby will charge us for new scans and X-rays, for which we have no money. So we have to travel long distances to take treatment from government hospitals,” Desarani said.

Kumar had visited the Akash Hospital, asking them to hand over the medical reports of the 39 people who were admitted to the hospital from his village. “They said that they need time to go through them and study them. We do not understand what they are studying after claiming that the patients are treated and safe to go home. We are afraid they are hiding something,” he said.

TNM reached out to Akash Hospital, but didn’t receive a comment.

It was around 11.45 pm on December 26 that the pressure in the pipelines carrying ammonia gas from the ships to the sea bed dropped, resulting in the gas leakage. Residents were alerted by word of mouth by workers who were returning from their late night shifts, after which they started evacuating their homes in large numbers. Several people who spoke to TNM alleged that the company didn’t use the emergency alarm button to alert residents or help them evacuate to safety. They have since been protesting for CIL to permanently shut down operations.

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