Over 900 critical, but Pune hospitals face shortage of nursing staff to take care of them

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As Covid cases rise, the managements of various hospitals across Pune are struggling to retain their critical care nursing staff by engaging in counselling sessions and raising their monthly Covid allowance. Over 900 persons with Covid-19 are currently critical, of which 480 need artificial ventilation.

At KEM Hospital, doctors and psychologists have been engaged in group therapy sessions to motivate their nurses to continue working despite tremendous pressure from their families to quit. Dr Madhur Rao, senior deputy medical administrator at KEM, said that of the 92 sanctioned posts in the intensive care unit, only 51 nurses are presently working.

When contacted, the nurse in charge at the Covid ward of KEM told The Indian Express that nurses were leaving as they were either afraid of getting coronavirus, or because their family members were pressuring them to quit. “Some have joined the government jumbo Covid care facilities, as they are getting higher salaries. So, there is tremendous pressure, and while the hospital administration has been supportive…we are all extremely drained,” the nurse said. “I have worked here for 20 years, and KEM Hospital is my second home. Because of the shortage of staff, we do not get time to relax, as there is a need to monitor Covid-19 patients…”

At Sahyadri Hospital, authorities have increased the Covid risk allowance given to nurses to Rs 4,000 per month, and have been engaging in giving pep talks and urging their critical care staff to stay back. According to Dr Sunil Rao, group medical director at Sahyadri, at least30 nurses quit to join CoEP’s jumbo facility, Sassoon General Hospital and YCM Hospital. “At Sahyadri Hospital’s Deccan branch, in pre-Covid times, we had a total of 300 nurses. Now, there are only 150,” he said.

As of September 16, there were a total of 17,762 active Covid cases, of which 8,780 patients were in home isolation. A total of 5,661 patients are in government or private hospitals, while another 3,231 are in Covid care centres. Even as additional health personnel are being outsourced to agencies, and government health facilities step up bed strength, several private hospitals are facing an increase in staff shortage. “At any critical care unit, there should be a ratio of one nurse for one patient, but the pressure on these health care workers has been tremendous,” Dr Madhur Rao said. “Now, the ratio is one nurse for every three patients, and nurses have been telling us they want to leave as there is too much pressure from their family members to quit.”

“(The situation) is getting exceedingly difficult to manage,” he added. “Nurses need to take some time off as they are constantly being rotated between Covid and non-Covid duties. Apart from their routine weekly offs, it has become difficult to go on leave. We conduct group therapy sessions so nurses are encouraged to continue to work.”

Dr Sanjay Patil, chairman of the Indian Medical Association’s (IMA) Action Committee, said that at small and medium hospitals, several doctors and nurses left to join government facilities. For instance, at Sinhagad Road, six frontline doctors from Patil’s hospital left in one day to join government-run Covid facilities. At the newly set up government-run health care facilities, a hospital ward nurse who would, say, get Rs 25,000 per month, was offered close to Rs 35,000, while an ICU nurse who would get Rs 28,000 – 30,000 was offered Rs 40,000.

When contacted, CoEP’s Jumbo Covid health care facility’s authorities said at least 450 staff, including intensivists, nurses and health care staff, are now working round the clock to save lives. Officials at Med Pro Hospital Management Agency, which was given the charge to recruit manpower and manage operations at the facility, said there was at least 15 to 20 per cent escalation in salaries of the newly recruited staff. “Nursing staff and doctors also negotiated with us and have raised their expectations according to their level of expertise,” officials said. However, they shared an increasing concern over a majority of patients being sent in from other districts like Junnar and Ahmednagar.

Over 2,000 distress calls to Sassoon’s mental health helpline

Almost six months into the Covid-19 pandemic, Sassoon General Hospital’s Man-Samvad helpline (number – 020-26127331) has received more than 2,000 distress calls. Of the 20 phone calls received daily, at least half are from doctors, nurses and health care workers who have been feeling stressed, fatigued, or overworked.

Dr Niteen Abhivant, head of the Psychiatry department at B J Medical College and Sassoon General Hospital, said they have been conducting stress management workshops wherein the staff speak about the problems and concerns they are facing. “Their main concern is that they do not want to transmit coronavirus to their families,” Dr Abhivant said.

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