Bengaluru: Bodies of 2 Covid victims found after a year

Bodies of two Covid-19 victims in Bengaluru uncovered after a year

Cleaning personnel found the bodies on Saturday when they opened the freezer, which was still in operation

GB Sujatha, elder sister of 40-year-old Durga Sumithra (who passed away due to Covid on July 2, 2020), and Muniraju's daughter Rajeshwari and her family wait for their family members' bodies outside Victoria Hospital's mortuary, one-and-a-half year after the two passed away due to Covid. Credit: DH Photo/ Janardhan BK

Scheduled cleaning of a disused mortuary at the ESI Hospital in Rajajinagar turned up a grisly discovery -- two bodies of Covid-19 patients who had died over a year ago. Sources revealed that the two deceased, identified as Durga Sumithra (40) of Chamarajpet and N L Muniraju (67) of K P Agrahara had died of the novel coronavirus in early July 2020 and their bodies had been preserved at the old mortuary freezer.

The hospital had two mortuaries. The older site, where the bodies were found, could hold six bodies. The new mortuary, which was running in tandem, has a 10-body storage capacity, sources said. At some point, amid the influx of bodies in July, when deaths peaked in the first wave, the two deceased were overlooked. The old mortuary was shut in December 2020.

“No inspection was conducted of the freezer. This was a serious lapse. A sticker is normally affixed on the outside of the freezer indicating the presence of bodies. No sticker was placed,” said a source at the hospital. Cleaning staff found the bodies on Saturday when they opened the freezer, which was still in operation. The bodies were sent to Victoria Hospital for postmortem.

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Narendra Kumar, Durga’s older brother, said Durga sought a hospital bed after developing a cough and slight breathlessness in July 2020. “We were struggling to get a hospital bed and fortunately, a TV news crew helped us get a bed at the ESI hospital,” he said. “The fact that the hospital abandoned her body for 15 months shows the kind of quality treatment they had given her when she was alive,” he said.

Durga was a mother of two school-going children (who are in class 6 and SSLC), who had passed away on July 2, 2020, after being treated at ESI Hospital, Rajajinagar, for four days.

Her elder sister GB Sujatha told DH, "My younger sister was a housewife. Her children, who are now under my care after their mother passed away, had already lost their father in 2019. Everything is over now. If the state at least now helps with the education of Durga's children, it will be of great help to us. Durga's body was not handed to us as she had passed away because of Covid."

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We were under the impression that her final rites were done. Now after 15 months they tell us they have found two bodies, one of them is Durga's. Now I am at Victoria Hospital's mortuary and the BBMP has assured us her final rites will be done by them."

Recalling her ordeal last year, Sujatha said, "We didn't even get her BU number. Her kids got to know her body has still not been cremated and are upset. But I couldn't get them here since they're young."

Rajajinagar MLA Suresh Kumar visited them and assured them that she will be buried as per Hindu customs, which they requested for.

Muniraju’s case is equally tragic, according to his daughter, Chetana Satish Kumar. “As a long-standing heart patient with trouble breathing even before the pandemic, he walked to the ESI hospital on his own on July 2, 2020, to get a routine check because he developed some heart pain and breathlessness,” she said. “However, as the ESI hospital staff was concerned that he may have Covid-19, he was admitted into the hospital.”

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She told DH that the family was never told that he had Covid-19. “The quality of care at the hospital was bad. We were never given updates about his condition and he died just three days after admission,” Chetana said, adding that the family was only told Muniraju had Covid-19, ten days after his death.

She alleged that the hospital also claimed to have disposed of the body without the family’s approval. “We were told the body had been released into the custody of the BBMP for disposal without our release signature. When we demanded to know how the body could be released without a signature, they were nonchalant and said: ‘It’s fine, you can sign now’,” she said.

Muniraju's youngest daughter Rajeshwari M told DH, "Last year, there was so much fear around Covid, we had asked the authorities to do the final rites. They had even told us they had finished doing it. Now they say they have found my father's body. What should we make of this? ESI Hospital has to be investigated."

Another one of his family members, in tears, said, "This isn't a story of a day or two. This is a story that has gone on for one-and-a-half years. We don't know why they did this."

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Hospital medical superintendent told DH an internal investigation is on. Health Minister Dr K Sudhakar said he will talk to the labour department officials and the minister under whom the hospital comes to investigate the matter. Dr Manoranjini G, Director, Directorate of Employees State Insurance (ESI) Scheme Medical Service said the hospital does not come under them and that the Delhi office of ESI needs to investigate.

ESI hospital staffers pass the buck

Sources in the hospital itself confirmed this lax attitude to documentation, stating that the mortuary log-book had also erroneously noted that the bodies had been given to the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) for disposal. The departments of forensic medicine and casualty were busy passing the buck to each other even as the medical superintendent Dr Imtihaan Hussain told DH, "We're doing an internal enquiry, and have also informed the police. We have instituted an internal enquiry committee. They will let us know the findings. We do not know how this happened. Let the enquiry report come."

Dr Vinay Shetty, Assistant Professor (Forensic Medicine), ESI Hospital, told DH, "It has nothing to do with the forensic department. The casualty department used to handle the old mortuary. We only oversee the new mortuary. The old one had six storage spaces and is merely 50 metres from the new mortuary block which has 12 storage spaces."

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Vijayanath V, Professor and HOD, Department of Forensic Medicine, ESI Hospital, reiterated the same to DH. "The old mortuary is maintained by the casualty medical officer. It is under their control," he said.  

ESI Hospital Casualty Medical Officer Dr Maya told DH, "Mortuary comes under the forensic department. When the new mortuary was started, there seems to have been some problem with the takeover. That's all. Both were in use simultaneously when there was a shortage. We have handed over the bodies to the BBMP."

Rajajinagar police said that a case of unnatural death has been registered. “We will take additional action once hospital authorities complete a departmental inquiry,” police told the media.

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