'Struggled with manpower early on, but managed it successfully'

Ever since the Rajiv Gandhi Super Speciality Hospital (RGSSH) was converted into a dedicated COVID-19 facility, Dr BL Sherwal, Medical Director of the hospital, along with the facility's healthcare workers (HCWs) has been working relentlessly to fight the deadly virus. In an interview with Nikita Jain of Millennium Post, Dr Sherwal talks of the challenges in turning the hospital into a full-fledged COVID-19 facility and what toll the pandemic has extracted from him and his team.


How did you go about managing the pandemic and what approach have you taken?

We were made a COVID-19 dedicated hospital in March and were the second hospital to be named so. We were running around 150 to 200 beds, and then we were asked to increase the capacity to 300 and 500. So, as of now, we have 500 beds and we can start with 650 beds any time, which is our full strength. The second thing the government wanted from us was the management of patients. Earlier, we had 18 beds ICU then we raised it to 45 beds and then to 100, which increased to nearly 200 over time. We have, at the moment, 170 ventilators. All the beds meanwhile have oxygen supply. The only problem we faced was that initially, we had a manpower of 250, but we got in touch with the government and I feel the government has heard us and provided us with the required manpower. As of now, we are okay with the number of patients and staff. So management right from the admission till discharge, we are following all protocols set by WHO, ICMR and the Government of India.

How have frontline workers at the hospital coped?

Most people were a little hesitant for their institutions, but I wasn't. We were struggling to run our hospital, and it was the initial stage and I really wanted to prove our worth. When I came back to the institute to discuss with the commission they were okay and said every other facility will be shut due to this. I gave them some time and the next day handed out the detailed discussion. I told them that surgery, cardio and other surgeries will continue. So then they agreed but then it was turned into a full COVID facility and everything was merged. So, that was a real challenge and I had to persuade them but I feel proud that within a few days, the whole staff had joined hands and are really working hard. And there are also a few who have refused to take quarantine or off and are staying at the hospital hostel since it started.

How difficult was it to understand the virus, considering the fact that it is so unpredictable?

First was the diagnosis, we kept hearing that new symptoms have been added. So, now starting from the normal flu it has reached levels like a patient losing taste and smell sensation; diarrhea. But during the treatment course, people are experiencing manifestations of the disease and how we intervene to ease the situation for a patient differs. There are few antivirals that have been introduced and are available in the market. Then there are steroids, which saves lives in some of the moderate patients and then there is plasma therapy. So, these are all learning experiences and we still have time. And now we have come to know that the virus is not just limited to the lungs but also reaches the cardiovascular system and other systems because it depends on the receptors and the virus can get attached. And as a COVID hospital, we are happy to say that we have treated more than 1200 patients.

How do you see the coming COVID-19 situation and what lies ahead?

Nobody can predict this and COVID is here to stay but we all need to put our efforts. In Delhi, that is happening. And if we have loopholes, I am hopeful we would be able to contain it. And if in the meantime we get some good treatment and a vaccine, the course will drastically change. The main priority is to contain it, which we may be able to figure out by the end of this year or early next year hopefully.

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