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13 deaths: Chengalpattu hospital dean claims O2 pressure dropped, but shortage wasn’t cause

13 Covid patients in Chengalpattu Govt Hospital in Tamil Nadu died Tuesday night in what has been cited as another instance of the severe oxygen shortage crisis in India's hospitals.

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Chengalpattu\Chennai: The dean of the Chengalpattu Government Hospital has denied reports that the death of 13 Covid-19 patients within a night this week was caused by oxygen shortage. Speaking to ThePrint, J. Muthukumaran, who took charge as dean this March, said there was an episode that night that saw oxygen pressure drop at the facility but claimed the patients in question died of Covid-related reasons, not oxygen shortage.

Thirteen Covid patients admitted in the hospital at Chengalpattu, on the outskirts of Chennai, died Tuesday night, in what has been described as another instance of the severe oxygen shortage plaguing India’s hospitals amid the second Covid wave. Similar instances have also been reported from Delhi and Karnataka. 

A doctor at the hospital, refusing to be named, told ThePrint that the deaths were a result of the hospital’s precarious oxygen situation. In a letter to PM Narendra Modi Friday, Tamil Nadu’s new chief minister, M.K. Stalin, cited the “unfortunate incident” at Chengalpattu as he sought the central government’s help in addressing the state’s oxygen situation.

However, the dean and the district authorities have both denied that the deaths were linked to oxygen shortage.

At a press conference Wednesday, District Collector A. John Louis said there was no shortage of oxygen in the hospital. ThePrint tried to reach him for a comment though calls and messages but there was no response till the time of publishing this report. 

Louis has ordered an inquiry into the incident by the Revenue Divisional Officer (RDO) of the area.

Also read: Death of Covid patients due to non-supply of oxygen ‘not less than genocide’: Allahabad HC

What happened that night

Describing what happened Tuesday, Muthukumaran recalled an incident 10 days before when “there was a drop in pressure at one of the hospital’s liquid oxygen tanks”.

A drop in pressure can happen because of leaks in pipes, if there is less oxygen in the tanks, or if there are a lot of patients drawing oxygen from one outlet.

“There was some technical mistake in the valve … the technicians were called to check the device. Because the tank could not be rectified then, a substitute valve was set up in place to maintain the pressure,” he added.

“This problem again happened Tuesday night when we rushed to the hospital.”

Since it was late in the night, Muthukumaran said, the oxygen plant company “could not send the required parts”.

“In order to stop the pressure from dropping to zero, we disconnected the liquid oxygen tank and connected the supply with the 180 oxygen cylinders we had in reserve. The deaths that happened in that time were due to Covid-related reasons and not due to oxygen shortage.”

The hospital, he said, augments its “pressure to high levels to ensure that it reaches upto the fourth floor”. “A decrease in pressure does not mean disrupted supply,” he added.

The Chengalpattu Government Hospital has a total of 480 beds, of which 325 are oxygen beds. Muthukumaran said, “We have three tanks of 10KL (kilolitres), 10KL and 3KL capacity each. We get enough oxygen supply to treat our current caseload.”

In an earlier statement quoted in the media, Muthukumaran had acknowledged oxygen-related challenges in the hospital amid the ongoing Covid surge.

A senior doctor at a government medical hospital in Maduranthakam, a town within the Chengalpattu district, said they sent “five of our oxygen cylinders to Chengalpattu Hospital on the night they faced oxygen shortage”. The doctor refused to be named.

A doctor working at the Chengalpattu hospital’s Covid ward said the “primary cause of death for patients Tuesday” was a drop in oxygen supply. “As soon as the oxygen pressure dropped, we lost six critical patients immediately and then patients whose condition was stable, died due to low pressure of oxygen over a period of 1-2 hours,” the doctor added.

“There is a major shortage of oxygen supply. Previously, we used to get 3-5KL of oxygen supply, which was enough to last us for 2-3 days. Now the demand has gone up to 5-6KL. Due to the increased caseload, it does not last us as long. The gap between refilling is the same but the demand has increased,” they said.

(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)

Also Read: ‘We’re helpless,’ says Delhi’s Batra Hospital as 12 Covid patients die of oxygen shortage


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