The death of four patients of the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) over the past week, during their treatment at the Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital (RGGGH) in Chennai, has raised suspicions on the quality of treatment provided to patients at both the health facilities.
All the four inmates of the mental health facility, who were admitted to the hospital on November 17, had shown the same kinds of symptoms — septic shocks and seizures.
Even though the doctors, who treated them, claimed that there was nothing unusual in their deaths, activists working in the mental health sector suspect foul play as hospital authorities have declined to share medical records of the deceased and are trying to cover up the deaths.
Sources said some of the inmates of IMH, who had contracted infections like leptospirosis, were shifted to another ward in the mental health facility. They infected seven other inmates at the institute and had to be admitted at RGGGH.
The first patient, a male inmate, died on November 18, and the second inmate, a female, died three days later. November 23 and November 24 witnessed the death of another male and female respectively. Hospital sources say, of the deceased, two were mentally challenged.
No foul play, claim doctors
Although cholera was suspected behind the first two deaths, tests for the same, using food and water samples from the IMH, came out negative. IMH often refers its sick patients to RGGGH due to the lack of doctors on its premises.
A press release by the IMH on November 21 said that it was a routine practice to refer the sick patients of the facility to RGGH on a regular basis. “Of the seven cases, one died due to septic encephalopathy and other due to seizure-related complications,” it said.
When contacted, Dr Poorna Chandrika, director, IMH said many patients tend to fall sick or contract a fever during the rainy season. They suffer from ailments like diabetes and seizures which aggravates their condition at times, she says.
“We have close to 1,000 inmates at IMH. Due to the change in weather, there has been a sudden rise in cases of fever. When patients already sick with complicated health issues get a fever, it is difficult to revive them despite medications. Although the facility witnesses such deaths on regular intervals, the recent deaths have become controversial because of their successive nature,” she said.
A doctor at the general hospital who is supervising the treatment of the IMH inmates, said the four patients who died had fever, septic shock and seizures. “Of them, three had renal failure. Of the remaining three patients, one has been discharged and the other two are being treated.”
Activists raise a stink
However, S Namburajan, general secretary, Tamil Nadu Association for the Rights of All Types of Differently Abled and Caregivers (TARATDAC) has alleged that the hospital authorities are trying to cover up these deaths.
“Two inmates of the mental health facility had died of the same symptoms including vomiting, sudden drop in blood pressure and kidney abnormalities in the first week of November. The four who died later in the week had the same symptoms. Of the six patients who have died this month, five had no relatives. It is clear that they were victims of medical negligence as they had no one to speak or care for them,” Namburajan alleges.
He also alleged that when demanded the hospital authorities declined to provide medical records of the deceased patients. “If they are transparent, we can prevent future deaths. But if they try to cover up their mistakes, I am afraid the number of deaths will go up. We have made complaints regarding these deaths to the chief minister, the Commissioner for Differently Abled and the State Human Rights Commission,” he adds.