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IAS officer turns bus depot into hospital to give MP town its first Covid centre

The SDM of Ujjain district's Badnagar was a doctor before he turned to civil service. His training helped him set up the facility in a town that had no dedicated Covid treatment centres.

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Ujjain: Yogesh Bharsat, sub-divisional magistrate (SDM) in Ujjain’s Badnagar tehsil in Madhya Pradesh (MP) was a worried man in April this year. The IAS officer, who had been posted for almost a year in Badnagar at the time, knew that the tehsil was facing a Covid crisis.

The number of cases were going up and the town didn’t have a single dedicated hospital to treat Covid patients. Since the pandemic first started in the country last year, till this April, the Covid situation in the tehsil had been more or less under control (because there had not been too many cases in the past one year). But that was fast changing.

On 18 April, Badnagar, a town of approximately 50,000 residents recorded 14 Covid deaths in a single day, said Bharsat. This was, what the SDM called, the “triggering” event for him.

The one government hospital and private hospitals in Badnagar were engaged in treating other illnesses and didn’t have the space to set up a separate Covid ward. In the past one year, since the pandemic started, Covid patients from Badnagar had been seeking treatment in hospitals in Ujjain or Indore.

The spike in cases during the second surge meant that most hospitals across the country were struggling to attend to the rising patient load. The hospitals in Ujjain and Indore were also packed and those from Badnagar couldn’t always depend on them.

What Badnagar needed was a Covid hospital of its own, and it needed it fast. “But everyone told me that building a hospital is no joke, and cannot be done overnight,” said Bharsat. The Badnagar SDM, who is also trained physician, was not about to give up.

That’s when he had, what he calls, his moment of epiphany — what if an existing building could be remodelled as a hospital?

Bharsat and his team (officials working in the SDM’s office) found the perfect answer in an abandoned bus depot. The official turned to crowd sourcing for funds to equip the hospital with necessary infrastructure — beds, oxygen, equipment, medicines.

A couple of doctors from the government hospital in town were shifted here. A group of  community health workers, under their supervision, and Bharsat’s guidance took care of the hospital’s need of medical staff.

Badnagar’s Covid hospital — named Atmanirbhar Hospital — was ready by 25 April.

While poor patients were treated free of charge, said Bharsat, those able to pay the cost of treatment were charged 30 per cent less than the stipulated charges for the same service in private facilities.

The hospital's rate card | By Special Arrangement
The hospital’s rate card | By Special Arrangement

The patients, all local residents, are all praise for Bharsat’s efforts and the facilities provided at the hospital.

“I got the best kind of care I could have wished for in these times, and I am very grateful for it,” Mahendra Beragi, a 29-year-old driver in Badnagar, told ThePrint. Beragi had spent a month at the hospital, after getting admitted in late-May, when his oxygen level had dropped to 60.

Crediting Bharsat and his team for the dip in the number of Covid cases in Badnagar, Sandesh Sharma, Badnagar’s chief medical officer (CMO), told ThePrint, “This would be the first of its kind bus stand hospital, not just in Madhya Pradesh, but probably in the entire country. In the past 15 days, there haven’t been any cases of Covid in Badnagar. But even if there are any cases now, we know that this hospital is well equipped to take care of patients.”

Also read: ‘Can’t afford wedding in normal times’: Why child marriages have surged in MP amid pandemic

Building the Atmanirbhar Hospital

Talking about why the bus depot seemed ideal for a healthcare facility, Bharsat said, “It was the perfect spot. It was a large space and had good cross ventilation.”

Built next to a nagar palika (municipality) community hall, the depot had been lying abandoned for the past three years owing to permission issues — there are a row of shops near the entrance which needed to be removed for the depot to operate. This had not been done.

Bharsat and his team earmarked the bus depot for the Covid hospital. But the hospital required more than just a building. They needed to arrange for beds, oxygen cylinders, ventilators, and other essentials to run the hospital.

“Money from the government contingency/emergency funds would have taken too long to get released and we were running out of time. The second surge was costing lives every minute,” says Bharsat.

Work to set up the hospital in progress | By Special Arrangement
Work to set up the hospital in progress | By Special Arrangement

Which is why he decided to go the crowdfunding way.

Several loudspeakers had been set up earlier in 2020 across Badnagar, to dispense information regarding Covid restrictions. Bharsat now decided to use these loudspeakers to appeal to the masses to donate money for the hospital.

The administration was floored by the flood of public support.

“In a week’s time, we had received approximately Rs 30 lakh in the administration’s Rogi Kalyan Samiti account. There were also other ways in which the residents helped,” said Bharsat.

Giving examples of the kind of support received, he added: “Some people who run event spaces donated beds and pillows, others offered to send food for patients regularly. Those who run small industries donated jumbo oxygen cylinders. Some people also donated oxygen concentrators to the hospital, and their names were engraved on the concentrators as a mark of gratitude.”

The money collected ensured there was enough to buy equipment and medicines for the hospital.

Also read: Why MP first brought scheme for ‘Covid orphans’ with no earning parent & then tweaked it

Running the hospital

Bharsat had held his first meeting with his team to discuss the idea of remodelling the bus depot into a hospital on 18 April. By 25 April, the hospital was up and running.

It had 43 beds with oxygen support, including four ICU beds. In a few days, 23 recovery beds were added for patients who weren’t critical but still needed medical care.

The hospital staff consisted of community health officers, who are trained and supervised by two doctors from the Badnagar government hospital.

Bharsat’s medical training and experience too came in use, not only in setting up the hospital, but in its functioning.

“My experience as a doctor was instrumental in how I approached this project, and how I made sure every single thing was done in a medically sound manner,” he told ThePrint.

The SDM had completed his MBBS from Pune’s BJ Government Medical College in 2007, followed by a degree in M.D. Medicine from Nagpur’s Indira Gandhi Medical College in 2011, and served as an assistant professor in Mumbai’s J.J. Hospital for four years. He turned to the civil services in 2016. At the Atmanirbhar Hospital, he would go on daily rounds and was involved in its day-to-day functioning.

“The hospital had been set up to cater to the needs of people in Badnagar, since they couldn’t find hospital beds in any other city. So, we decided to keep this hospital exclusively for Badnagar residents,” said Suyash Shirvastav, a consultant doctor, in-charge at the Atmanirbhar Hospital.

Recovered patients being gifted shawls and flowers before they are discharged from the hospital | By Special Arrangement
Recovered patients being gifted shawls and flowers before they are discharged from the hospital | By Special Arrangement

The hospital discharged its last patient on 5 June. Over a period of a month-and-a-half, since its setting up, the hospital had admitted 340 patients, of which 29 succumbed to the disease.

The recovery of each patient was celebrated and they were presented with shawls and bouquets of flowers by the hospital staff on the day they were discharged.

Having successfully won the battle against Covid in Badnagar, the Atmanirbhar Hospital now lies as abandoned as the bus depot it had once been. But Bharsat is keeping it ready in case of another surge.

“If there is a third wave, we now have a hospital fully competent and ready to treat patients,” said Bharsat, with obvious relief.

(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)

Also read: MP’s Damoh voted when Covid surged, and school teachers on poll duty paid a big price


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