The Hindustan Times Trailblazer Award 2021 : Kapil Chopra
Hotelier and entrepreneur Kapil Chopra talks about how he saved lives in the pandemic by averting the problem of unavailability of hospital beds through his initiative Charity Beds.
When you meet Kapil Chopra for the first time it’s instinctive to describe him as an outstanding hotelier, an enthusiastic art collector and a genius entrepreneur who had been one of the youngest Presidents heading Oberoi Hotels, before he gave it all up to start his own chain of boutique properties - The Postcard Hotels, while also managing and being a key investor and Chairman of the Board in EazyDiner. However, you dig a little deeper to the entrepreneurial shark and you meet a Delhi boy with dreams and a vision, founder of an NGO called Charity Beds, and a passionate guy who wants to make a difference to his country. It all started back when Chopra was born to a middle class family, with a father who was a medical professional. “My father was a doctor and I wanted to be a doctor but couldn’t clear the medical entrance examination. I then decided to become a hotelier. I pursued my degree for hotel management from Delhi and lead the Oberoi Hotels through many a wins when I headed the brand as President. However because of my father’s work in the medical world, at the back of my mind, I always wanted to do something for public health care and a lot of discussions between my father and me revolved around the fact that in India, due to lack of social security if you are poor you could not get access to good medical care.”
Chopra’s NGO has been instrumental in helping the capital fight Covid-19. But the story of Charity Beds precedes the pandemic. Chopra lost his father, but continued his legacy, which eventually evolved in to becoming a blessing for people battling Covid-19 by getting them hospital beds, which were very scarce during the pandemic. “When I lost my father in 2005, the clinic that he had practiced in, at Feroz Shah Kotla, I started operating that clinic with a MBBS doctor as a fully charitable clinic. The medicines that were being distributed in the clinic were free and the consultation was also free. Everything was going fine, however with time passing by, in 2011, I pondered if I had done enough to change India’s public health care system like I had always wanted. I asked myself - where have I really gotten? I’m running such a big company, Main phir bhi iss clinic se kya hi kar pa raha hun? Kitne hi log aajate hai har roz clinic main? 30-40? India main kitne saare log hai. I wanted to make a bigger difference and impact to our health care system than I currently was. And then, suddenly I came across an article about beds for the economically weaker section of the society in hospitals and things changed overnight thereon.”
But what was in the article that propelled Chopra to make a bigger difference? “I learnt that all the big hospitals in Delhi had got land at lower prices by the government as much as 100 rupees an acre, on the pretext that aapko yeh zameen mil rahi hai sasti, iske badle main, 10% of your inventory should be for poor people jinko aap kuch charge nahi karoge. But the problem was, if you’re a maid or a driver and you want to take your loved one to the hospital, aap Apollo hospital main lost feel karoge - kaunsa form fill kare, kya paise de. We realised that this problem was happening.”
The next step that Chopra took helped him to build an authentic information bank that he could use for people’s benefit on a large scale in the capital during Covid-19. “I pledged to build the bridge between the EWS of the society and their claim to their rights to access public health care. The Supreme Court had also directed hospitals to put up boards in the hospital lobby enlisting beds available and occupied for the EWS and general categories. However, this still didn’t solve the problem of an EWS person. Unko toh abhi bhi darr lag raha tha ki hospital se bhaga denge unko. So we started using technology to ease this problem. We thought from the point of view of the patient. Agar aap hospital to hospital jaaoge boards dekhne ke liye ki which hospital has a vacancy of beds then by that time a critical patient could pass away. So we went to the private hospitals and with a team of two people I said, guys let’s collect the information displayed on the boards, put it up on a website on the internet on charitybeds.com. So we used to put this on the website for example that Batra hospital main itne beds available hai. We had also put up numbers of people from our team, so that when any poor person called our team then we would help them with all the formalities at the hospital which would baffle them earlier.”
When the pandemic hit, that is when Chopra realised that an opportunity had presented itself! “When Covid hit, people were scared and unsure. The biggest problem Delhi was battling was unavailability of hospital beds. However, because of our work from the past nine years we had the knowledge of which ICU, in which hospital has how many beds vacant! This network that we had nurtured since the past decade, no one had! So while the authorities were saying there are 1600 beds available, we countered them and gave the right information that 1600 bed nahi, 60 bed hai! Kya bol rahe ho?”
Never one to accept defeat Chopra lead his team to fight the pandemic from the front. “When crisis hits either you get up and do something about it or accept defeat. When Covid hit, I called up my team and said what can we do to help the situation? Humare paas kya advantage hai? Hum har ek hospital ke ICU doctor aur nodal officer ko by name jaante hai with their numbers. So, while the availability of beds in hospitals was being over quoted, we knew the reality.”
Quoting a real life example, Chopra shares, “When someone in Delhi got a cold they panicked that it could be Covid and rushed from one hospital to another without the knowledge of which hospital is a Covid hospital and the availability of beds in that hospital. Till then, things could get critical for the patient. So me and my team realised that this panic is being caused by a lack of information. What I started for the first time on my twitter feed was Covid updates! This was seen and retweeted by people and we became the most authoritative voice to say while the authorities are saying 39 beds are available at Safderjung hospital, only 3 beds are available. Agar aap Safderjung ja rahe hai toh Batra hospital jaiye waha 17 bed available hai as of 11:30 am aur agar aap atak jaaye toh Charity Beds volunteers ko call keejiye.”
Chopra used the social media to create a wave of right information that ended up saving several lives amid the pandemic. “We would do a tweet every hour giving status of availability of beds in every hospital. Then the whole community of twitter people retweeted, we all came together and we became the most authentic voice on helping people for getting beds, blood or plasma donation because of our network with doctors.”
Chopra’s tweets not only became viral on twitter but transcended to other social media platforms as well. “We had two volunteers on the ground, another two feeding information, and so in every tweet of mine, we gave the entire information including the nodal officers number and our numbers. So that became a handbook for Covid-19 patients battling and struggling for hospital beds. My tweets were forwarded in other social media platforms like WhatsApp also. So we were able to then channelise traffic and Delhi main do din main saara panic khatam ho gaya.”
But what makes Chopra a right choice as an awardee for HT Trailblazers presented by Ambience is the intention from which he worked so enthusiastically and selflessly! “Charity Beds doesn’t accept any donation. All of the work that was done was funded out of my own funds. God has been kind to me, so we never took donations. We were genuine with our work and just wanted to help people out so we collaborated with NGOs.”
They say that life has an uncanny quality of making your dreams come true when you work to make other people’s dreams come true. “The upside to this whole thing was that I became friends with so many doctors and I became a very known face in the doctor circle. Now I get invitations from hospitals for blood camps. There are doctors talking to me on my timeline. So this is so heart warming for me, because I feel like I’ve come a whole circle as I always wanted to be a doctor, one amongst our health care professionals,” says a smiling Chopra.
So what’s next for Charity Beds as Covid is on a decline and vaccination drives have begun? “Now that Covid is under control, we are working to release unused beds in private hospitals again for EWS category for patients with medical needs other than Covid also,” says Chopra, sipping on a mug of freshly brewed tea in a glasshouse office as he ponders over the various other ways he could make a difference to the people of his country.
Author tweets @FizzyBuddha