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Friday, Aug 23, 2019

State-run Punalur hospital in Kerala gives pvt hospitals a run for their money

The hospital has units for performing rare surgeries , oxygen producing plant among others.

india Updated: Oct 13, 2017 23:31 IST
Ramesh Babu
Ramesh Babu
Hindustan Times, Thiruvananthapuram
Dr Shahirsha, Superintendent of the Punalur hospital.
Dr Shahirsha, Superintendent of the Punalur hospital.(Vivek Nair/Hindustan Times)

At a time when there is a raging debate over crippling public sector healthcare, this small town Kerala hospital stands out for facilities it offers at a nominal price.

It has, among others, units for performing rare surgeries — forte of state-level government medical institutes or private hospitals, oxygen producing plant, a hygiene protocol that a few state-run hospitals offer.

The Punalur hospital in the Kollam district of south Kerala has seen a reversal of sorts with patients like K Jayakumar and Reshma shunning private healthcare facilities for a low cost and high quality medical facilities.

K Jayakumari, 39, got elbow replacement surgery done for Rs70,000 about four months ago, which the private hospitals said would cost Rs5-6 lakh.

Reshma, 19, who is undergoing treatment for squint in her eye, says behaviour of the staff is warmer than in other government hospitals.

“The hospital was much better than what I expected,” said Jayakumari, recalling her treatment. Another patient, however, said long queues and wait can “sometimes be tiring”.

Patients at the Punalur Hospital in Kollam, Kerala on October 11, 2017.
Patients at the Punalur Hospital in Kollam, Kerala on October 11, 2017. ( Vivek Nair/Hindustan Times )

Public healthcare in India is dogged by lack of facilities and trained doctors and nursing staff. The system came under intense public scrutiny after the death of over 30 children within a span of 48 hours in Baba Raghav Das Hospital in Uttar Pradesh’s Gorakhpur in August this year. The cause of infant deaths in Gorakhpur was allegedly due to shortage of oxygen.

Punalur hospital was caught in a similar situation three years ago when oxygen cylinder suppliers took doctors for a ride.

The hospital then decided to have its own oxygen producing plant and got one imported from Germany after pooling funds from government and donors.

The plant not only provides uninterrupted supply of oxygen to the hospital, but also saves Rs 5lakh annually on oxygen procurement.

R Shahirsha, who took charge as the superintendent in 2010 after his 13-year stint with a primary health care centre, says this hospital was also like any other government hospital. “I managed to form a core team and tackled issues one by one,” he said. “Every day all employees meet at the dining hall during lunch and discuss problems and provide solutions”.

But what changed the hospital was management of resources. “We played with volumes effectively. From gate pass, comfort station and nominal registration fee we earn Rs 25 lakh every month. And often many well-wishers too come forward to help,” said Shahirha. The hospital also makes good money from over 80,000 tests it conducts every month at rates one-fourth of a private laboratory.

Punalur Taluk Hospital in Kollam , Kerala.
Punalur Taluk Hospital in Kollam , Kerala. ( Vivek Nair / Hindustan Times )

The turn-around of the 250-bedded hospital, once considered ideal for punishment posting, was not easy. Private hospital and lab lobbies teamed up against Shahirsha and even got him transferred but a day-long fast by entire town ensured his return.

“It is a model hospital,” said Kollam MP N K Premachandran. “What I found amazing is that they use funds effectively and tackle even minute things professionally”.

District medical officer Dr K Sherly echoed the MP’s view and added that the government has earmarked Rs 60 crore for expansion of the hospital.

The growing reputation of the hospital, however, has its pitfall.

What hurt the locals now are the long queues as patients from nearby areas including Tamil Nadu also visit this hospital.

First Published: Oct 13, 2017 23:31 IST

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