Amidst the spike in Covid-19 cases in India, hospitals in West Bengal are in a spot, with over 300 nursing staffs from Northeast, leaving their jobs and head home to Tripura and Manipur.
Out of these, 185 nurses are from Manipur. Already 66 of them have reached the state and are quarantined in the state’s quarantine centres. Another 119 of them are still stranded in Kolkata after the government of Manipur decided to put on hold the extraction efforts.
Rupak Barua, the Vice President of the Association of Hospitals of Eastern India and Group CEO, AMRI Hospitals confided that he anticipates a health crisis once the occupancy level picks up. The same concern is echoed by Charnock Hospital where 27 nurses resigned, Peerless Hospital whose 25 nurses have left, 16 from Fortis Healthcare, 11 each from Bhagirathi Neotia Woman & Child Care Centre and IRIS Multispeciality Hospital, and 10 each from Sri Aurobindo Seva Kendra and Apollo Gleneagles Hospitals.
Reacting to the ‘exodus of nurses from Northeast’ sectarian media reports painted the nurses as villains who shrank from their role in the battle against the pandemic and took off. The reports even accused the Manipur government of instigating the exodus by issuing a call to ‘come home’ to the nurses to lend their hands in the state’s fight against the Covid pandemic, promising befitting employment. Manipur chief minister, whose government coordinated with the government of West Bengal and the ministry of Home Affairs and processed the travel passes for at least 189 Manipuri nurses from Kolkata to Manipur, categorically denied the ‘instigation charges’ saying that his government did not issue any call to ‘come home’. He however defended the nurses by asserting that if the nurses want to come back home he cannot deny them entry.
The Kolkata returnee nurses quarantined at the JNV Yaralpat in Imphal East, speaking on the condition of anonymity revealed that negligence in following safe protocol by hospitals which employed them, pay anomaly and social and security issues compelled them to formally take leave of absence and in some cases resign from work and come home taking advantage of the state government’s extraction efforts of the state’s natives stranded outside the state.
Describing the compelling conditions for their decision to leave their hospitals, the returnee nurses top ranked the fact that the managements of these hospitals did not prioritize the safe of frontline nurses by ignoring their constant demand for conducting Covid test even after long hours exposure to Covid19 patients and neglecting self-isolation protocols.
The nurses said they had been demanding quarantine time or tests after being exposed to the virus after treating COVID-19 patients. But the hospitals neither let them self-isolate nor got them tested. Given this situation, their concern was going back to the hostels and putting their roommates at risk.
“What happens is that we are exposed, so the people staying with us at the hostel are also be exposed to the virus. They are not even getting us tested. Whether we are positive or negative, how will we know?” explained an exasperated returnee nurse, hiding her face under her surgical mask.
Another senior returnee nurse pointed out that the hospital management completely flaunted safe protocol and denied personal protection equipment to the nurses who directly handle Covid patient putting them at high risk. Several of the hospitals compelled the nurses to re-use the PPE kits and N-95 masks while there are many other hospitals who do not provide the mandatory N-95 masks to the frontline nurse who are then forced to wear double layered surgical masks and even these are to be re-used.
“We’ve to use one N95 mask for five days. Using the same mask for five days means that the virus is already there. If we keep using the same one, we might also get infected,” she complained.
Besides the health risk related issues, the nurses also had to put on with racial heckling which including physical threat like being spat on, discriminated by landlords and non-payment of due salary and dietary deficiency issues.
According to the president of Manipuris in Kolkata, MIK, Ksh. Shyamkesho Singh, there are roughly 1,200 Manipuri nurses in Kolkata, working in different hospitals and health service providers. He went on to state that these nurses, known for their high level of dedication, have probably become the backbone of the health care services in Kolkata. He further said that even if 185 Manipuri nurses have left work, there are more than a thousand nurses still helping West Bengal fight the pandemic 24/7.
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