‘Some are trying to make money out of the shortage of oxygenated and ICU beds’
For six days, Sushma Gowda waited to hear from the BBMP control room about a bed for her brother who was suffering from COVID-19. With no means to take him to a private hospital, a government bed was her only hope. That call never came and her brother died at home.
Anyone who has tried to get a bed allocated from the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) is often driven to despair. The beds are always almost full, especially oxygenated and Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds.
But an alleged bed blocking scam uncovered in the south zone war room by BJP legislators led by Bengaluru South MP Tejasvi Surya, has now raised questions as to whether the beds are really always full in the city.
“Given the lack of bed availability, the same may be happening in other zones as well. The BBMP must conduct an audit of bed allocation across the city and immediately root out corruption. Bed blocking will only affect the city’s poor, in many cases pushing them to death,” said Vinay Sreenivasa, advocate and activist working with urban poor.
Mr. Surya. explaining how the beds were blocked and sold for a consideration, said the Arogyamitra appointed as a nodal officer for a particular hospital, informs the zonal control room as and when the beds are vacated.
“A minute after a bed is vacated at the hospital, it is blocked from the control room, often in the name of asymptomatic patients, in home isolation. Thus senior officers, people’s representatives like us who follow the bed availability spreadsheet assume there are no beds. However, a patient for whom the bed is blocked needs to report to the hospital within 12 hours, during which time those involved in this scam at the control room manually allot it to someone else, for a consideration,” he explained.
“If those with money and influence are the only ones who get beds allotted, why have a helpline?” Mr. Surya rued.
However, a senior civic official said manually changing the allocation was not so easy in the software.
“From what has come out now, clearly there has been bed blocking and some have tried to make money out of the scarcity of oxygenated beds and ICU beds. But it may not be very widespread,” he said.
Minority community staff the target?
The group of BJP legislators trying to expose corruption in bed allocation in the south zone, also made communally-loaded statements against those from the minority community working at the war room.
Tejasvi Surya, Bengaluru South MP, came armed with a list of 17 names, all from the minority community and sought to know their qualifications. Satish Reddy and Ravi Subramanya, MLAs, took objection that so many people from the same community had been appointed at the war room. Their comments were live-streamed on Mr. Surya’s social media handles.
Sources in the civic body said there are over 120 staff working at the south zone war room of which 17 were from the minority community. Following the face-off with legislators, most of them were fired.