Layoffs expected at Indian hospital AMRI after fire destroys it's Kolkata branch (and claims 90 lives)

As they gathered in small groups a day after the ghastly fire at AMRI, the strain on their faces was conspicuous. The pain of losing two of their colleagues, who died while rescuing trapped patients, was palpable in their hushed conversation. They were also visibly worried about 20 coworkers who were fighting for their lives at AMRI's Mukundapur unit.

Among the 60 nurses from Kerala who were witness - and also were a part of the rescue effort - in the AMRI hospital blaze last night, 22 were injured in. Two 23-year-olds females died, 20 others (including eight females) were injured. It took these Kerala-residents, even with their often indecipherable English, to show the "humane" face of hospital whose reported lapses yesterday took a toll on 90 lives, including the young nurses.

It was an urgent missive that the (hospital) management wanted to meet all 300 of these Keralite nurses working in AMRI Dhakuria that brought them again to the hospital on Saturday morning. Before the meeting, there were confusion and apprehension on whether they'd be able to retain their jobs (with the government scrapping the license) and why did media "choose" not to mention their effort that saved many lives. "Both Vinita and Ramiya (23-years-old nurses who died during the rescue operation) were on the ground floor. They could have run away. But they didn't. They went to the fourth floor ICU units instead to rescue the patients. They prioritized patients' lives, ignoring their own," an agitated nurse told TOI.

Picking up the cue, another nurse said, "Most of the photographs carried on Saturday showed our male colleagues in normal dresses running with victims on stretchers. They have been told (in captions) as locals. Actually, when we came for the morning shift (around 6.30am), we were told not to wear aprons. The management feared that their could be a mob backlash on us."

Among those admitted in AMRI Mukundapur, 12 were released later in the day while eight continue to remain critical. The hospital management, sensing their mood, assured the retinue of nurses that the Rs 5-lakh compensation announced (by the hospital for those dead) would cover their dead colleagues and they'd also be entitled to other benefits. While applauding their bravery, the authorities told nurses that they shouldn't be apprehensive about their jobs for AMRI has enough facilities to accommodate all of them.

Ripples of the incident also reached Kottayam (in Kerala) where the deceased hailed from. Kottayam MP Jose N Mani said he had contacted the Kerala chief minister and the Centre on the matter. Chief minister Oomen Chandy assured of all possible help in the matter. Vinita's uncle Viyayan and Ramiya's brother Santosh reaching Kolkata on Saturday to airlift the bodies back to Kerala. Vijayan said Vinita comes from a very poor family and four months back she had come to Kolkata from Hyderabad after the present job offered her a better salary. Ramiya's brother Santosh wasn't in a condition to speak as he hurriedly took a taxi for SSKM Hospital, where the bodies have been kept in the mortuary.

"Information reached us Friday afternoon. I had immediately sought help from the chief minister and the minister of state for home Mullappally Ramachandran. Both of them assured me all help. I had even spoken to the hospital authorities in Kolkata," Mani said. The Kerala government, it is learnt, is also expected to announce a separate compensation package for those killed and injured in the fire.

The stress and strain working in Kolkata - where they try to hard to overcome the language and culture barriers by sheer efficiency - remain writ large on their faces. There are nearly 16,000 of these Keralite nurses working in city's flourishing healthcare sector. Nursing in Kolkata, however, isn't only a female domain with male nurses competing for jobs - and money. For these nurses, Kolkata, New Delhi and Mumbai remain their preferred destination for the high salaries offered. Vinita, who died on Friday, worked in Hyderabad for Rs 4,000 and had come to Kolkata after she was offered twice the salary, her uncle said.

Jaison Abraham, who is working as a nurse in Kolkata for close to a decade, said, "The incident has left us scared. We were very unsure of the fate of our colleagues working there till the authorities announced there won't be any retrenchment." The incident, however, will be difficult to put behind. While these 300-odd nurses have been promised a posting in other AMRI facilities, their immediate concern - whether they've to come to hospital everyday - wasn't told. As a nurse pointed out, the entire attendance system and HR records have been destroyed. "We've been asked to furnish all our testimonials and documents afresh," she said.

Source: Times of India