Sunday, December 11, 2011

AMRI - some thoughts and a few questions..

Are we Bengalis low on Emotional Quotient ( EQ)?

#seeing the TV coverage of some of the Bengali TV Channels, I certainly thought as a race we are EQ challenged. This was certainly no time or place for feigned histrionics – that most of the anchors were indulging in – led, of course, by the upstart “star” of Star Ananda (who was pretending to gasp for breath inside the wards - compalining of suffocation by "Carbon Monoxide" it seems. First of all, who let him in – before the situation had been brought totally undercontrol ?).

#What was #MamataBanerjee doing there with a Micro-phone screaming instructions – promising to reward the local youth for helping out, advising the relatives of the deceased to proceed to SSKM Hospital Mortuary – where the “dead-bodies were being taken for post-mortem” and wait “patiently” as it would take some time for the “bodies to reach” . Few of her Ministers who had reached the scene were busy giving inane news-bytes to channels. There is none to tell our VIPs that the best way to help in such emergencies is to stay out of the way of those managing the crisis. They can cause more harm than good by their interference eager to score a few cheap political points.

# Perhaps, to prove their ‘professionalism’ the AMRI website put up Excel Sheet list of the “dead” – with noting of “bodies that have been identified”. But – not a word of condolence, mourning or regret. The rest of the pages were left as it is – full of marketing spiel. The next day, however, they did carry advertisements in the inside pages of city newspapers – making it a point to thank the staff “who have shown great courage in saving many lives without a thought to their own safety”, the latter I have no reason to disbelieve or discount.

unfair comparisons ?

A Twitter friend took serious umbrage at a comment of a well-known Mumbai journalist, comparing the AMRI tragedy with the Taj 26/11. He felt the comparisons – especially of Bombay and Calcutta were odious – and I agree with him. But, the point she was trying to make, I think , was a bit different. Is it right to compare the professionalism and dedication of The Taj staff with that of AMRI – even if both are ‘service institutions’ as she argues ?

I have reasons to believe, the junior nursing and the service employees - of organizations like AMRI are under-trained and under-paid. They are mostly drawn from very poor quarters of suburban and rural hinterlands of Calcutta and put on the job with minimum induction. Most of them are contractual employees – not even on the hospital’s permanent rolls. The HR policies of these places – set up with the sole objective of making a quick buck – are not conducive to inculcating any sense of pride or belongingness. The lack of professionalism of the employees would be apparent from their blatant casual attitude – on a visit to the Out-patients Departments of any of these private hospitals. Therefore, I for one am not at all surprised – without trying to justify their action in the slightest – at these junior staff - many of them the sole bread earners in poor families - trying to jump off to save their own lives leaving behind the patients under their care.

About the security staff the less said the better. This has become an industry that breeds more insecurity than security. Remember the Dhananjay episode (where the Security Guard was accused of rape and then hanged). Most security agencies get hold of riff-raffs from the slums for a pittance and put them up with shabby uniforms and no training whatsoever. The old peanuts and monkey theory.

Service institutions must have a different ethos and can’t be run as any other commercial organization. This fact is often not appreciated by promoters – who see it just as another profit making enterprise like any of their other ventures in real-estate, FMCG (Fairness Creams) or Undergarments - just as Doctors no longer remember Hippocrates’ oath.

The business model of many of the mushrooming private hospitals and nursing homes are based on the unholy nexus with Insurance TPA (Third Party claim Assessors) outfits.

Domain expertise counts in running hospitals as much as it does in a paan-shop or restaurant. Medical industry needs its own core-competence – which the Apollos, Escorts, Fortis, Medantas, Manipals, Narayan Hrudalayas even the Jasloks and Leelavatis bring on board to some extent, I hope, and that's not to think they are bereft of commercial interests..

Anjan Dutt – a Bengali singer and actor – put it very well, I thought, on a TV show. Calcutta has been taken over, he said, by a breed of businessmen – who have no love for the city and see it only as an object of exploitation for quick profits. The same mentality seems to afflict – even the successful professionals – most notably among them the Doctors, who have earned a terrible reputation for their lack of professional ethics. That’s a real pity – since Calcutta was once known as a centre of medicine with some of the finest physicians and surgeons of the country in every field of specialization. Today, we have train loads of Bengalis travelling to Chennai and Vellore for treatment (ironically, sometimes to the sister hospitals of the same groups which have affiliates in Calcutta).

Much is being written about the government nominees who were on the Board of AMRI. It seems most of them never attended any meetings and the Chairman - believe it or not - claims that he was even not aware he had been elected to the post.

I know a couple of Trustees of the Breach Candy Hospital in Mumbai. These people take immense pride in their association and, therefore, great interest in the affairs of the hospital. Big names – who are visiting doctors – are extremely demanding on the hospital authorities for medical and support services – as they don’t want their reputation to be compromised.

Here, in Calcutta, people see it only as a ticket for freebies – a perk of being in a position of power or having the right connections  (for the well-known gynaecologist on the board - I am sure it's no more an honour than being the President of The Bengal Club) - and for the hospitals it is a convenient pay-off to flaunt some respectable names on their website.


the first and last resort


The fire-brigade used to be one of our finest outfits. It, probably, is still very good. But, can it be compared with the New York fire-men post 9/11 ? Certainly not. Therefore, it was telling to hear some aggrieved relatives ask – why wasn’t the army called in for the rescue operations. For me – this is indicative of the deep distrust and lack of faith that the general public has developed for most of our public service institutions. The army to them remains the only one that inspires confidence – by the sheer dint of their self-less courage, dedication and discipline.

The sense of service seems to have gone out of our lives – with perhaps, the sole exception of a few religious orders and the armed forces. Consumerism has stolen our hearts and made us irredeemably self-centered.

Wonder what it will take to change that, if ever?