For the last three months RDT Bathalapalli Hospital has earned a special place in the hearts of the hundreds of people who have been treated here for COVID-19 as well as their relatives and loved ones. Dignity and respect for every person is the motto under which this hospital was founded over 20 years ago, and time and again our staff has proven this by their actions.
The sharp increase in the cases of COVID-19 all over the country is putting a stress on the limited healthcare infrastructure. Keeping this in mind, RDT is expanding its medical capacities to meet the growing need.
“Seeing the likelihood of an increase in the number of patients as well as serious patients, RDT consulted with the District Collector to expand our facility,” explains Anne Ferrer, RDT Executive Director. Today this facility has a total capacity of 360 beds, of which 160 are with oxygen supply and few beds at the Intensive Care Unit (ICU).
RDT is working closely with the Government and District Medical authorities who are referring patients to this facility. “We are also attending regular videocalls with medical professionals from other facilities within and outside the district to know about their situation and exchange opinions,” says Dr. Praveen, Director of RDT Bathalapalli Hospital. “Most of the patients we received in April were asymptomatic or had mild symptoms but since the first week of May, we are getting more and more severe cases. This is the time when we have to go a step further keeping in mind the safety and well-being of our team,” he adds.
A long- distance race
Medical, support and canteen staff have been working tirelessly since 16th April when RDT Hospital was appointed as a COVID-19 Centre. However, the spike in the number of cases during the last few weeks has worsened their existing burden but it has also reinforced their commitment and bravery.
“After more than three months the team is exhausted but we have to go forward. The worst is yet to come. We are also exchanging protocols and tips with our counterparts working in other parts of India and Spain, and that’s been very helpful,” explains Dr. Venkata Ramanna, in charge of level 1 patients.
Dr Ketty Arce, in charge of level 2 patients also feels the burden. “Professionally, this is one of the greatest challenges of my career. I am constantly reading and following the new research that’s being published. Emotionally, it is like a hurricane. I am afraid to lose a patient, frustrated to be battling against such an unknown enemy, motivated when I see how hard the patients are fighting to recover, happy when a group of patients are discharged and proud to see how responsive and committed my team is.” However, for her, the most important thing right now is “to take care of the team and maintain the quality and dignity of our work, even if the number of patients increases. We are RDT and that carries a responsibility.”
Bharati, a nurse with more than 6 years of experience at the ICU unit and now on duty at Level 2 – for patients with moderate and severe symptoms – remembers vividly the initial days on COVID-19 duty. “I was terrified. I thought I could not do it. The first time I wore the PPE gear and the masks I felt dizzy and cried. How was I supposed to work with that? I could not breathe,” she remembers.
After more than three months’ duty at the RDT COVID-19 Centre, Bharati has gained confidence. “I feel happy to be doing what I do. Many COVID-19 patients have gone through a lot. They are not only fighting the virus but also the stigma and discrimination from the society. Some of them are afraid to go back to their neighbourhoods when they are discharged. They are very thankful and that really pushes me to keep working,” she says. However, Bharati has her own battle to fight along with her family. “My mum calls me every day after my shifts and asks me to come back home. She cries. I feel sad but I simply cannot leave now. I am needed here,” she states.
Fighting the other virus: Stigma and discrimination
Many reports have emerged about abuse and threats against frontliners and essential services providers since the start of the outbreak. Bathalapalli Hospital staff living in the surrounding villages have suffered this first-hand. “My neighbours threatened me that I cannot stay in the village if I kept working in the Hospital,” explains Mallesh, a support staff in Bathalapalli for 14 years.
“It was very tough for me. The same day that BTP was appointed as a COVID-19 Centre many of my colleagues resigned out of fear and family pressure and my neighbors threatened to kick my family and me out of the house. My whole world was trembling,” he remembers.
RDT field staff and government employees acted immediately and conducted awareness in the surrounding villages. “Bathalapalli Hospital has always been the pride of the region, and then suddenly everything changed,” explains Moncho Ferrer, RDT Programme Director who visited those village several times during the initial weeks. “We also offered accommodation to all the hospital employees who were anxious about going back to their homes due to the stigma,” he adds.
With the support of RDT field staff, Mallesh convinced his neighbours and today he is living with his family in the same house. However, he feels that people avoid him and change direction when they see him. “I do not wear my uniform until I reach the hospital, otherwise people stare at me. Luckily my family supports me but many of my colleagues had to resign because of family pressure,” he concludes before getting ready for his shift.
For the next 2 hours, he will be wearing the PPE. Today the temperature has reached 40 degrees Celsius and the hospital facilities do not have AC. “The protective gear is made of plastic and while wearing it we cannot go for breaks, either to the restroom, wipe our sweat or scratch ourselves,” he explains with resignation.
The pillars of BTP Hospital
While the medical staff fight in the wards against a microscopic but powerful virus, the support and canteen staff are the pillars that support everything. Their commitment is displayed through their job of maintaining the highest standards of hygiene in the facilities and preparing hundreds of nutritious meals everyday.
Diet plays a crucial role in patient’s recovery. Lydia, in charge of Bathalapalli canteen, knows it better than anybody else: “We are preparing hundreds of meals every day following a high protein menu, assessed by our medical team. Every patient is special and so is their meal. Not only do we use the best ingredients but also follow the highest standards of safety. A single error could be fatal.”
Due to the surge in patients, dozens of volunteers and RDT staff members are helping out the regular canteen staff in their daily duties. As Lydia says it aptly, “Together we are stronger”.
Text: Aina Valldaura