Warm-up the Hospitals Please

Efficient and adequate heating is the responsibility of the healthcare system
Warm-up the Hospitals Please
Representational Pic

It’s already past 15 November, and hospitals in Kashmir are now authorized to switch their heating systems on. Now, for some hours every day, the wall mounted units and ceiling vents will blow some warm air into the huge expansive wards. Some hours every day will be warm for the patients and their limbs will not freeze on the metallic hospital beds. Some hours every day, the attendants will have reprieve from the chill that has engulfed the surroundings. However, these hours will remain few. For most hospitals in Kashmir switch off the heating systems for a major part of the day and many hours in the night. The wee hours turn out to be the coldest and are never made any better.

The hospital heating schedules keep the days without any heating. The heating boilers, the systems that are installed at most of the big hospitals, are turned on at dusk, kept on for some hours in the evening. Although the heat keeps the spaces warm for some hours but are far from fighting the sub-zero temperatures through the night. The motors are turned on in the mornings again, a couple of hours again. Even though the old hospital constructions in Kashmir have one of the most effective, if not efficient heating systems in place, the lack of maintenance has turned many of the areas heat barred.

Masses, with no one to hear their anguishes, will make arrangements of Kangris, light bonfires outside, beg the hospital canteens for some hot water to fill the heating bags, pay for it and heap layers of blankets over the patients. Doctors will have a mini personal blower under the table to keep their legs from numbing due to cold. The administrators will have an Air Conditioner over their tables to make their cabins the coziest and envied spaces. The queues inside the corridors of OPDs will shiver for hours till they reach the consultation rooms for a two minute period.

At a recent visit to a new hospital building in south Kashmir, was a personal shocker. The newly inaugurated hospital building of District Hospital Kulgam is lined with marble, the wards as well. There were no doors and chill barged in through the polythene sheets that were used as curtains. No means that the families employed to warm up the space helped the patients, many of them freshly operated upon. A doctor spoke about post-surgery hypothermia to one of the attendants who was worried about his shaking family member. “Don’t use a heating bottle, he may scald his skin as he is still numb post anesthesia,” the doctor warned. And then, more layers of blankets.

With the hospital doors and entrances sealed with blankets, and windows and vents sealed with plastic sheets, the administrators attempt to retain all the heat in the spaces. However, the blankets turn blacker with every day, and by the time it is time to take these off, in March, they have spread microorganisms to a wide community. The lack of ventilation and the stuffy air inside the hospital reeks and shouts of failure of hospital infection control mechanisms. But, of course, the first enemy to be beaten is the cold that sure needs the inlets to be sealed off.

An efficient hospital heating system, paired with healthcare funds and well-thought-of protocols is the need of the hour. Kashmir’s winters last at least six m9nths, from mid-October till mid-May but the months between November and February are the harshest in most districts. The patients admitted for ailments deserve a comfortable and safe stay, apart from a good treatment regimen. Hospitals could do without fancy marbles and intricate khatamband ceilings. They could also do without the granite lined stairways and multi-lakh expenditures in some enclosures of important figures.

However, the hospital infrastructure, no matter how loudly we talk about these, would be incomplete without efficient heating systems in place, the systems that are designed to save energy and maintain temperatures for the comfort of patients.

In addition, what is also needed is the safety of patients and attendants. Winters are the times for more frequent respiratory infections due to improper ventilation, and to my personal belief, due to the blankets on the doors that everyone has to ritually touch to enter the premises. The ventilation system can only be addressed by the mechanical and civil engineers employed by the healthcare department putting their heads together.

The fires can be averted by the Fire Safety department putting its hammer down on the defaulting fire safety audits. Hospital fires have cost lives and been disasters, more than once in recent times. Now, the Government ordered that a fire safety engine be stationed outside the main hospitals to respond to any emergency within a nick of time. Why hasn’t the Government, simultaneously ordered that the fire safety audit reports be worked upon and the winter months be ensured safe and cozy for the staff, the patients and their attendants. It is the need of the hour.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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