A 63-year-old woman died early on Monday night from breathing complications after being denied treatment at six different hospitals in Sylhet.
The woman, from Kazirbazar area in Sylhet city, was suffering from Asthma for decades and fell critically ill on Monday night.
Her family members rushed her to a private hospital where she was denied treatment. Five other hospital, including three medical college hospitals, followed suit.
Two hours later, she died in ambulance just before they reached Sylhet MAG Osmani Medical College Hospital (SOMCH).
A family friend, who was with the victim's from the beginning, described the incident to The Daily Star, seeking anonymity for himself and the family.
"After I heard she was critically ill, I rushed to their house. Around 12:15 midnight, we reached Al Haramain Hospital with an ambulance. The duty doctors refused to treat her and told us to go to another hospital," he said.
"Over the next two hours, we visited Oasis Hospital, North East Medical College Hospital, Maa O Shishu Hospital, Park View Medical College Hospital and Jalalabad Ragib-Rabeya Medical College Hospital, one after the other."
He added that after she was denied treatment at those hospitals, they finally reached SOMCH around 2:20am where the on-duty doctors declared her dead.
"During such harassment, we were only given an oxygen cylinder from Maa O Shishu Hospital as our ambulance's cylinder had emptied and Jalalabad Ragib Rabeya Medical College also conducted a quick x-ray to assess her condition right before they referred us to SOMCH," he said.
He further said, "She was buried at her home in Beanibazar upazila's Kashadighirpar yesterday morning. Her family members, mostly expatriates, wanted her to get the best treatment at a private hospital -- but instead she was denied treatment at all the notable private hospitals in the city."
THE HOSPITALS' SAY
Dr Nahian Chowdhury, assistant director of Al Haramain Hospital, said, "We are operating with 80 beds, including specialiSed flu corner for suspected Covid-19 patientS. But all beds, including those in the CCU and ICU facilities, were occupied that night."
"We have no intention to refuse anyone but we had to refuse at least five patients that same night," he said.
Monsur Alam, assistant manager of Oasis Hospital, said, "We have three bed flu corners for patients with Covid-19 symptoms. But, as far I know, we didn't refuse treatment to anyone that night. If someone alleges that, it's false information".
Dr Nazmul Islam, director of North East Medical College Hospital, said, "We are dedicating a building of our facility for the treatment of Covid-19 patients and for that, we were shifting general patients from that building to another.
"As we were unprepared to admit suspected patients, we refused admitting her. But we will be admitting all types of patients from today [Tuesday] afternoon."
Murshedur Rahman, general manager of Sylhet Maa O Shishu Hospital, said, "They reached here at night but we had no advanced facilities to treat such a patient. But we provided an oxygen cylinder for her as her previous cylinder was almost empty."
Dr Tonmoy Bhattacharjee, deputy director of Park View Medical College Hospital, said, "We have eight ICU beds but only two ventilators and both of those were occupied. Her oxygen saturation that time was below 60 percent and we couldn't treat her without a ventilator. That's why we had to refuse admission."
Dr Tarek Azad, director of Jalalabad Ragib-Rabeya Medical College Hospital, said, "When they arrived, our on-duty doctor and ICU in-charge visited her. As she was suspected to be a Covid-19 patient, the doctor and our ICU consultant conducted an x-ray in the hospital's lab promptly."
"They then referred her to Sylhet Saheed Shamsuddin Ahmed Hospital, a dedicated hospital for such patients. But they went to SOMCH and the woman died on the way.
"What happened, is unfortunate. We should have been more careful. I ordered our doctors to admit any patient from now on, even if the patient is suspected for Covid-19. If the test reports come positive, we could refer them to Covid-19 designated hospital."
GOVT OFFICIALS' SAY
Following several instructions of the respective departments, the Health Services Division (HSD) of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, circulated an order on May 24 to start separate treatment facilities for Covid-19 and non Covid-19 patients at all government and private hospitals with 50 or more beds.
Dr Anisur Rahman, assistant director of Sylhet Divisional Health Office, said, "Following the directives of the HSD, Sylhet's civil surgeon had earlier ordered all hospitals to oblige and we also circulated the order to all hospitals yesterday [Monday]."
"As an unfortunate incident has occurred, we could've taken serious steps if the family filed a formal complaint with us. But they denied to do so. However, following the incident, we are issuing warning letter to all the hospitals involved so that no such incident occurs in future," he said.
Dr Himangshu Lal Roy, deputy director of SOMCH, said, "Admitting a patient to any hospital of choice is completely a personal matter of the family, but this government facility is always open for all -- round the clock with maximum facilities.
"Doing business all year long and during this global crisis, it is unfortunate that private hospitals refuse patients. There are instructions from the government to admit all kind of patients and that order must be followed."