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How a Delhi initiative plays matchmaker for covid patients and hospital beds

Charity Beds, an initiative set up by hotelier Kapil Chopra in 2011, is now updating people in Delhi NCR about the availability of hospital beds for covid-19 patients

AIIMS Trauma centre, which has been converted to a dedicated COVID Hospital in New Delhi.
AIIMS Trauma centre, which has been converted to a dedicated COVID Hospital in New Delhi. (ANI PHOTO)

It’s a Sunday evening and Kapil Chopra is busy posting updates on Twitter. At 4:15 pm, he wrote about the availability of over 250 beds (general) for covid-19 patients at the Rajiv Gandhi Super Speciality Hospital, Dilshad Garden. 45 minutes later, he posted about yet another hospital in Najafgarh, which had 19 beds available. For the past one week, the team at Charity Beds—an initiative founded by Chopra and like minded individuals to help vulnerable communities get treatment in private hospitals in Delhi NCR—has been posting such information to empower people to seek treatment for covid-19 at the right places.

The covid-related updates started last week, when Chopra posted: “The situation in Delhi is getting worse, the Twitter feed is full of people dying or going to 4 to 5 hospitals without finding a bed. So, with a group of colleagues and the team at Charity Beds, we will start updating some details [on social media]." Since then, the team members have been calling the hospital, checking if the phone is being picked up, the number of beds available, the contact person, and more. In an interview, Chopra, also chairman of the board at EazyDiner and CEO, The Postcard Hotel, talks about the response that the initiative has been getting. Edited excerpts:

Could you talk about the reasons for setting up Charity Beds?

We have been running Charity Beds for eight to nine years now, when the Supreme Court had ruled that every private hospital, which got land at concessional prices, should give free medical care (including cost of medicines) to the economically weaker sections of society. But this directive was interpreted by private hospitals in very different ways. As a result, say, how would a driver, who was already distressed because someone in his family had a brain haemorrhage, negotiate with a hospital about what was to be included in the bill and what was not. So, we became a fulcrum between private hospitals and vulnerable communities.

What was the trigger that led to Charity Beds starting special covid-19 related updates?

For the last few months, the team has not been able to visit hospitals. There is hardly any regular staff at these facilities to take non-covid cases—the hospitals have been struggling. Whoever was calling us for ailments apart from covid-19, we would say, if you can wait, don’t go to the hospital, as those could be sources of infection as well. But, we have been seeing videos of people crying, going from hospital to hospital, seeking help. And because we understand the public healthcare system in the city, we know what is happening. So, we went to four key hospitals such as Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, Ram Manohar Lohia, All India Institute of Medical Sciences and Safdarjung Hospital, which 90 percent of Delhi visits. First thing that we told people was not to go to these four as they were already operating to full capacity, instead, here was a list of others that you could go to. For instance there is a super speciality hospital in Narela, which always has at least 67 vacant beds.

As you get information from the ground, are there any gaps that you have been able to identify and plug?

On Friday night, I got a call from a health activist. She informed me about a person with a heart ailment, who had started getting breathless. They wanted to go to Rajiv Gandhi Super Speciality Hospital, but no one was picking up the phone. That made us realise that our updates were mostly from the day. But who should people speak to in case they have to get admitted at 2 am? So, we have been speaking to nodal officers at hospitals about it.

What has the response been like?

In a pandemic such as this, information is key. And sadly, that is the one thing that is lacking. People have been calling with requests (For instance, on 12 June, Ashok Agarwal tweeted about a suspected covid-19 patient, admitted at a hospital in Delhi, requiring immediate ventilator support. The team connected him with Bensups Hospital, Dwarka). People are very scared and need a helping hand. One person commented that a team member at Charity Beds spoke to them so nicely and it felt so good. That comfort is also what people are looking for.

Could you tell us about the team that puts these together?

We are a team of four, which verifies all the information coming in from the ground, disseminates it on social media channels and responds to queries. Tech support has been provided by EazyDiner. My job is to see what should be our focus areas. For instance, are we focusing only on Dwarka, which is a hotspot? In the area around Ajmeri Gate, is everyone going only to Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan Hospital, which makes a covid report mandatory for admission? Could they also go to Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital, which doesn’t require such reports.

We have also put out a one-pager for people who want to set up similar hospital beds aggregator platforms in their cities. The idea is to reduce fear and replace it with information. The ultimate aim of the public healthcare initiative is to have a national registry of available hospital beds, along with the specialty of each hospital. For example, if a heart patient in Patna wants to be treated at a government hospital in Delhi, could he or an NGO log onto the platform and know if a bed is available? That is what we should aspire for.

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