Health workers protest attack on medical personnel at Bheri HospitalTwo nurses jumped out of the window to safety after relatives of a Covid-19 victim had attacked them.
Sadikshya Gaire has been working at Bheri Hospital in Nepalgunj as a staff nurse for the past two and a half years. She has been deployed to the Covid-19 ward of the hospital since last year when the coronavirus pandemic raged across the country.
Gaire, 22, was among the health workers who were manhandled by a patient’s relatives on Thursday night at the hospital after he died during the course of treatment earlier on Thursday night.
“The assailants attacked me and grabbed me by my throat. I ran away and hid in the intensive care unit with other nurses. But they broke into the unit,” she said, showing assault marks on her neck. “We ran into a bathroom and locked ourselves in. They tried to break the door open. I instinctively jumped out of the bathroom window to escape. I was genuinely scared for my life and that of my colleagues.”
According to the doctors at the hospital, a 53-year-old man from Dang was admitted to the hospital on May 18. The patient was put on ventilator support after his health condition deteriorated on Thursday. He died the same night.
Relatives of the deceased, accusing the medical team at the Covid-19 ward of negligence, barged into the ward, vandalised the intensive care unit and physically assaulted the team of doctors and nurses present.
Jumping out of a first-floor window to escape the attackers, Gaire landed on a pile of sand saving her from any major injuries. Although she was unscathed, the incident has left her terrified.
There were five staff nurses including Gaire and a doctor working at the Covid-19 ward when the incident occurred.
“I was running an electrocardiogram (ECG) test on the patient at around 8:15pm. His attendants were threatening to harm me if I failed to treat the patient,” said Gaire.
The attacks started soon after.
“I was at a loss; I didn’t know what to do,” she said
On Friday, doctors, nurses and health workers of Bheri Hospital protested against Thursday night’s attack that put the lives of several medical staff at risk. The health workers chanted slogans at the premises of Bheri Hospital throughout the day and reached the District Administration Office raising their demands on Friday noon.
Their slogan, ‘No security, no work. Punish the assailants’ was their cry for help.
They have condemned the police’s inaction even when they were informed about the unfolding events at the hospital on Thursday night.
According to the hospital administration, the deceased man’s son and brothers assaulted health workers alleging that he had died because he was put on ventilator support.
Man Bahadur Rawat, the brother of the deceased, asserts that his brother died due to the negligence of the health workers.
“My brother was talking to us before he was put on ventilator support. We had requested them not to put him on a ventilator. My brother died because of it,” Raut wrote on Facebook.
Dr Chandra Prakash Sahu of the Covid-19 ward refutes Raut’s claims.
“The patient’s family had asked us to keep the patient on ventilator support on Wednesday. But all the ventilators were occupied then. So we placed him on a ventilator when one became available on Thursday but he did not survive,” Sahu said.
According to Ashwini Gurung, another staff nurse who was on duty with Gaire, the patient’s oxygen level had reached a very low level.
“We had to put him on the ventilator. But a few moments later, the patient’s family members barged into the ward and started manhandling us,” Gurung said. “We don’t know what would have happened to us if we hadn’t fled that night.”
She too had jumped out of the bathroom window with Gaire.
After the incident on Thursday night, a team of government officials including Chief District Officer Shivaraj Gelal and Superintendent of Police Om Rana had reached the hospital to take stock of the situation.
The District Police Office in Banke arrested three assailants soon after the incident.
“We have started an investigation on the three involved in Thursday night’s incident at Bheri Hospital,” said Om Rana, Superintendent of Police, also chief at the Banke Police Office.
Gelal has formed a committee headed by Assistant Chief District Officer Shankar Bista to investigate the incident.
In the last three weeks, incidents of misbehaviour against and manhandling of health workers have increased in Nepalgunj as the number of Covid-19 patients seeking treatment at various hospitals has spiked.
On May 7, Upendra Singh, a paramedic deployed at the emergency ward of Bheri Hospital, was attacked by a Covid-19 patient’s attendants after the death of the patient. On April 29, another patient’s attendant attacked a staff nurse at the hospital.
Dr Sanket Risal, a senior physician, says the hospital administration had issued a statement demanding action against the guilty.
“But the District Administration Office and District Police Office did not take the issue seriously,” Risal said. “There were no measures taken to prevent such incidents from happening at the hospital again.”
According to him, health workers now fear for their lives in the absence of a safe working environment at the hospital.
“How much can we take? There is never a day when we are not threatened by the relatives of patients at the hospital,” said Risal. “Most of us are on duty 24/7 given the high flow of Covid-19 patients at the hospital. Such attacks on us not only expose us to physical harm but also wreck our mental well-being. We begin to question our own sanity.”
Dr Laxman Sigdel, another doctor at the hospital, says health workers there have not been able to focus on their duty as threats and assaults have become a regular nightmare.
“We feel belittled. We feel betrayed. We won’t be able to do our jobs when we are afraid for our own lives,” Sigdel said.
On Friday, various health organisations across the country issued statements demanding strong action against the guilty of the Thursday night incident. The district and central committees of Nepal Medical Association have also condemned the incident.
Laxmi KC, Banke chapter chairperson of the Nursing Association of Nepal, said: “The police have taken some of the perpetrators in custody but we fear they will be released. If that happens, we will hold protests until justice is delivered.”
On Friday, six critical Covid-19 patients, who were undergoing treatment at Bheri Hospital, died amid protests by the health workers.
The health workers have said they will not return to work until the authorities take action against the individuals involved in the attack and until arrangements are made for their security at the hospital.
Banke is one of the districts hardest hit by the second wave of the coronavirus that is ravaging the country.
So far, 270 Covid-19 patients coming from outside Banke and 288 patients from Banke have died of Covid-19 in the district, according to the District Health Office.