Mr. K.S Gururaj is a renowned community leader in Mysore, a city in the state of Karnataka in Southern India, who is making a significant difference to COVID-19 patients, doctors and nurses. A few weeks ago, I had the amazing opportunity to interview him about his experiences as one of the founding members of the Mysore Association of Hospitals and Nursing Homes (MAHAN), and being on the front lines of this COVID-19 war. This interview was tremendously inspiring to me, as it captured how much of a positive difference one person can make in the world. When given the opportunity to make a difference, always take it. As Mr. K.S Gururaj mentions, “If not now, then when?”
Hello Mr K.S Gururaj – Thank you for taking the time to talk to me about the Covid-19 situation in Mysore and how as a volunteer, community leader you have championed the response. So, what is the Covid-19 situation in Mysore? How did the city respond? What were some of the challenges and how were they overcome?
The COVID -19 pandemic issue had never crossed our minds. We never anticipated that this is going to be such a big problem in this part of India. Everything started with one or two cases in the nearby village, and suddenly, we saw a large spike in infection for in almost in 200-300 people. This alarmed most of the people living in the city of Mysore. Fortunately, the district administration was able to handle the cases quite well, thanks to Mr Abhiram Sankar (Deputy Commissioner of Mysore). His team included the head of Mysore Police force (Commissioner and SP) , the Commissioner of the Mysore Urban Development Authority (MUDA), the Mysore City Corporation Commissioner and more. All of them together formed a young team of bureaucrats, who helped doctors contain the virus for some period of time.
However, now the numbers are increasing dramatically. After the lockdown period was over. People started moving around freely without any protection and became less concerned with social distancing guidelines. This is most probably the main reason for the continuous spike in cases. When it started, most cases were managed by the Government centers alone. However, select private hospitals were also treating few COVID-19 positive patients. This worried all of us. If these hospitals were to treat a non-COVID-19 related issue, there is an inherent risk of those people getting infected. This reduced the number of patients that were reaching out to private sector hospitals even for routine checkups or other health related issues.
The government soon came up with a 50% initiative, meaning 50% of all beds in the private hospital would be reserved for COVID-19 positive people. However, as mentioned earlier, if we have both COVID-19 positive and negative patients together, the chance of spread is significantly higher.
So this kept us thinking and looking for a solution.
4 years ago, we had formed a trust/task force called MAHAN, which is the Mysore association of Hospital and Nursing Homes. I was one of the main founders, and am currently the treasurer of the group.
As a group, we knew that we had to do something to help the patients in these hospitals. We decided to form another consortium, that would be exclusively handle the COVID-19 positive patients. This would ease the COVID treatment burden from at least 3 or 4 hospitals in the area, ensuring that the hospitals have the staff and materials to take care of non – COVID-19 patients.
This became a hybrid model, the only one in this part of the country. To accomplish this, we took over a defunct hospital named Vikram Hospital, with the government’s help. The government revamped the hospital, to ensure that it could safely handle COVID-19 patients. That was a 100-bed hospital.
The government took care of the supplies, materials and everything they needed to keep the hospital in good condition, while the MAHAN helped supply of the doctors, nurses and paramedics, and security professionals that were needed to run the hospital. This formation was meant to assist the front-line COVID warriors. This includes doctors, paramedics, healthcare workers, and corporation rank workers.
Along with this, policemen who have been working during the pandemic are getting infected. These people were battling on the front lines, but they did not have any healthcare support for themselves. This was the main reason we wanted to form this hybrid model. Now it is a very large 100 plus bed hospital and everything medical-related is being taken care of by the MAHAN. Again, the non-medical aspects such as food, water and other supplies are being taken care of by the government. The turnaround time of patients has been wonderful. We have also implemented Telemedicine with tele-consultation units on all floors so that doctors (specialists) need not be in direct contact with positive patients for every small check-in. Every single patient is talked to through video consultation, which is useful for learning about the patient’s history and other factors.
You mentioned that the MAHAN has been supplying medical-related services and supplies for these COVID-19 hospitals. What is scarce in the medical community right now?
COVID -19 is a disease which is still not known to many people. Even today, the best doctors don’t know how the virus progresses. 80% of COVID patients make it out fine, but the other 15 % is the high-risk population. 10% of this 15% may need additional support of ventilators. While ventilators are somewhat scarce, physical supplies are still manageable. The problem is, we do not have enough manpower to mange ICU with ventilators. 30% of the existing people managing are infected themselves. In our hospital itself, 5/20 staff are infected. We must isolate these people. Even healthy workers are not allowed to work for more than 6 hours during this pandemic. Balancing this is a very difficult task, and it is very stressing.
Similar to your analogy, COVID-19 is a war, and doctors/healthcare workers are the front line soldiers. How are they managing this workload and the influx of COVID-19 patients?
This is a very good question. In the beginning, many doctors closed their offices, and almost went into hiding. (this is mainly at the specific instruction of govt. officers). Especially senior doctors, who are at high risk of getting infected, did not want anyone in their clinics. Because of this, there was a major shortage of doctors. We have even offered double the salary for the paramedics, but it is still difficult to find people willing to join.
Once you know that a patient is COVID positive it is somewhat simplified. The problem is that not everyone is readily testing, making much of this struggle a mystery. I am also a front line worker, even though I am at high risk because of my age. ( I am 68 years old now).
I think it is amazing that you continue to help people, it is very inspiring and powerful.
I believe- God has given us more time, more money and more talent. it means that we must do something with that time. Donate some money you have and share the talent which you can. My main motto is “If not now, then when?” My phone has become somewhat of a warzone. Everyone is contacting me saying that they want ventilators and beds.
I’m sure that with people like you, the situation has been aided greatly. You spoke about how doctors had closed their clinics at the start of the pandemic. What was the public perception and community reaction to this?
The community is worried. The community also doesn’t go to the hospitals and doctors for smaller ailments, when this used to be a common occurrence. Many hospitals are working at half capacity, due to either a lack of patients or a lack of staff. As time goes on, more and more doctors are re-opening, and we are coming close to normalcy.
Being close to the medical field and the front lines, what has been your journey during this entire pandemic?
I keep seeing a lot of my friends and doctors being infected, and I am really worried about them. Sometimes, I get scared about the risk of my infection. My family and other close friends keep warning me to be safe. If I am within the 80%, it is fine. But what if me or one of my friends reaches past that into the 15 or 10 % category? In the current trend, if someone is put on a ventilator, they usually don’t come back out, because the virus would have completely taken over their body. The mortality is also very high in Mysore city. It used to be zero, but now it is 3 -4 %. We are in the middle of a war, in the front lines. I hope everything will be ok. I always live in good hopes. It will take its course, we can only pray and be helpful to the fellow human beings. I look at the all people the same, regardless of caste, creed, or wealth.
When the COVID -19 lockdown had just started, we provided goody bags with daal, rice and other groceries, for front line workers. This became a huge trend in Mysore city. Everyone started giving goody bags to their employees. We started a small hungry project because migrant workers were isolated. We had people donating breakfasts, lunches and dinners. Sometime, vegetable merchants would drop extra supplies off, so we were able to prepare delicious meals for these people.
Wow, you made such a tangible difference to the lives of the people in Mysore, and India in general. Your creation of a separate hospital probably saves multiple lives. Before we part, what is your message to the public, as we continue to fight through this pandemic?
Wear a mask. Stay safe, and help those around you. If you cannot help others now, you will never be able to. Be kind to everyone and everything. Look beyond yourself, and stay positive.