There is a cruel sort of irony about having an obsolete hospital building in the middle of a pandemic when lives are at stake and hospitals are stretched to the limit.
In Bangalore, India there are less than 4,000 hospital beds available to a population of 12 million. However, a consortium of partners has now banded together to add 100 oxygen enabled beds to the region by turning a non-operational hospital building into a fully functional COVID care facility. While this might seem like a drop in the ocean to some, it makes all the difference to the patients currently fighting for their lives.
Project CoHeal began as an effort by a group of young entrepreneurs who wanted to do something to support the community to which they belong. Amruta Desai, Executive Director of Globals, a Bangalore based technology firm involved in Project CoHeal, highlighted how the second wave of COVID in Bangalore saw otherwise healthy and asymptomatic patients taking a sudden turn for the worse, with their oxygen levels dropping almost immediately.
“It was very unfortunate and sad to see people around us losing their lives simply due to a lack of oxygen. We reached out through our resources to import oxygen concentrators and put them to use. We realised just by doing this we were helping a lot of people who needed the oxygen.”
However, what began as efforts to import and provide oxygen concentrators for patients, soon evolved into the idea of adding to the healthcare infrastructure within the area. This came after the realisation that some people were holding on to the oxygen concentrators in fear and preparation of a worsening situation.
In the hope of creating a more sustainable solution for the future and aiding in this pandemic, the group driving Project CoHeal considered their options to address the urgent need of the hour – a healthcare facility in the area with skilled manpower.
“One of the things we wanted to look at when we were building the hospital is that it should run for at least one year not just for a month. In case there is a third wave we do not want to be reactive like how we did with the second wave. We have to be proactive. We have to be having the infrastructure ready, God forbid if a third wave comes,” Amruta said.
With sustainability and longevity in mind, Project CoHeal began surveying unused infrastructure in the area that had the potential to be turned into a COVID care facility. They discovered a non-operational hospital building which was part of the Rajiv Gandhi Dental College in R.T. Nagar, Bangalore.
The building was meant to be set up as a medical hospital as a prerequisite for building a medical college, a plan that was abandoned due to the pandemic which left the hospital building under-utilised. Project CoHeal put in a request to the college management and were able to re-purpose the building into a fully functional COVID care hospital that can now treat 100 people at a time.
This 24-hour COVID care hospital has zero cash counters, assuring patients that treatment that is 100% free for all. It is also in the process of incorporating a dedicated paediatric wing as well as building intensive care unit (ICU) capabilities.
QNET India seized the opportunity to lend a hand to this inspired initiative through its corporate social responsibility (CSR) arm, RYTHM Foundation. This inaugural partnership saw QNET funding 25 units of oxygen concentrators and four units of High Flow Nasal Cannula (HFNC) Ventilators, which are a crucial requirement for the ICU Units being built within the COVID Care hospital.
Amruta said, “We are so thankful to RYTHM Foundation for this aid because one of the things we wanted to do was convert 15 high dependency units into ICUs. We are currently taking in mild to moderate cases of patients, but if these cases get critical, they may require ICU support and the use of ventilators. Now with this contribution, we have at least a minimum of 4 ICU beds that can be set up immediately.”
The facility has been up and running as of May 24, 2021, thanks to the joint CSR effort by a group comprising the Globals, Presidency College and Rotary Club Manyata. A project of this magnitude certainly required a consortium of partners as well as public funding to ensure the setup of the basic infrastructure and the basic operations for the first two months, including the vital aspect of doctors’ and nurses’ payroll.
“One of the important things to note is that we have 3 shifts because it is a 24-hour facility. We are grateful that RYTHM Foundation was also able to cover 6-months’ worth of payroll for the doctors and nurses, because they are the most crucial part of the system.”
The success of Project CoHeal in setting up this COVID treatment facility did not come without its challenges. One major challenge came when the landlord of a previous building they had selected, a men’s hostel, backed out of the project. He had concerns that future tenants would not want to rent premises that had been used to treat COVID patients.
Amruta said, “We had almost finalised and gotten all the equipment ready to convert it into a COVID care hospital. We almost signed the paperwork and he just backed out. It was very shocking, and we were left without a space. We didn’t give up and we thought, ok if not this we can definitely look and find something else.” Sure enough, they did.
However, after acquiring the premises, they had to overcome another hurdle which was getting government approval for the facility. Project CoHeal managed to convince the government and local authorities to sign agreements, including the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) which have embraced this facility. The government has even listed it as an option for people to avail of its medical care services.
This also means that the rent, medicines, and a continuous supply of oxygen for the next year are assured which is a big milestone in achieving the goal of the sustainability of this project and to ensure preparedness for any future eventualities. As the name of the project suggests, the objective of Project CoHeal is to redirect the fears of COVID and its consequences towards a more positive focus on ‘co-healing’ or healing together.
Amruta said, “We definitely know that CSR at this scale is very, very ambitious for us but then we thought that if we don’t do it, who is going to do it? We had to jump into action and get it right. We actually set up the whole hospital in 7-10 days making sure everything was ready. It was 24/7 work for us, but everything is in place and we’re very happy that patients are there right now and getting better.”