Healthcare has come a long way for middle-class Indians. Access to private sector healthcare is considered a boon and in many ways it is. As many specialty hospitals open up in every metro, the perception is one of easier availability of quality healthcare. Of course, access to healthcare services comes at a hefty price.
The entrances of such high-end medical facilities are built to inspire confidence. The way patients are attended to, the manner in which documentation is handled, the quick and calm response of doctors — all these speak volumes about their professionalism. It’s not just good healthcare practice but also makes enormous business sense to treat customers with care when they enter the facility.
But a hospital is not just any other facility offering "consumer" service. It is a facility that literally deals with life and death. And the efficiency factor should typically then be measured on a different scale. One measure could be: how does a hospital cope with the death of its patients? Is it just as efficient, professional and humane just as it is when promising wellness and care to those who enter its portals? In my experience, that’s where most hospitals fail to make the grade.
Recently, my father was admitted to the Noida Medicare Centre (NMC) after a stroke. On its website, the Centre proudly claims an ethos of "personal touch and humane approach". Despite the best efforts by the doctors at NMC, they couldn't save my father. But what came as a shock was the manner in which the hospital handled the process of preparing his body for the hearse.
As can be expected, a hospital will not want the deceased to be taken away from its premises from the main entrance. That is understandable as it would be unsettling for patients and their family members. However, how difficult is to manage the exit gate with a little care and humanity? Can they not create a clean pathway for the purpose?
At NMC, the back door leads to a filthy backyard. The yard had not been cleaned in months and opened out on to a back street which was even filthier. There, amid faeces of stray animals and rotting garbage, we laid down the stretcher carrying my father's body, so that the attendant could prepare it for the last rites. Whatever goodwill I had for the hospital and its efficient staff vanished in a beat.
How much does it cost a hospital management to keep the exit area clean and create a small concrete structure for the body to be placed while it waits for the hearse? Isn't this a part of the service that the recently deceased patient was paying for? For hospitals like NMC that make tall claims about its "passion to serve humanity", this begrudging of a little decency and dignity to the dead betrays its callousness more loudly than their lip service to commitment and responsiveness. For them, it's all about the profit motive. Dignity and humanity be damned.
Adite Banerjie is a Delhi-based writer. The views expressed by the author are personal.