Food being distributed at the RIMS orthopaedic ward in Ranchi on Friday. Picture by Hardeep Singh
Eat hospital food, stay ill.
A rehash of the Bihar midday meal tragedy hasn’t happened yet at the Rajendra Institute of Medical Sciences (RIMS), the state-run hospital in Ranchi, but it can.
The hospital dishes up food for over 1,000 patients everyday in a dirty kitchen without supervision. Hospital superintendent S.K. Choudhary, who made surprise kitchen inspections on August 12 and 14, didn’t like what he saw.
On August 12, when Choudhary saw workers cooking mounds of food without supervised by nutrition experts, he reportedly asked the cook about their whereabouts. On August 14, when he made his second visit to the RIMS kitchen around 10.30am, he saw the situation was the same.
Then, Choudhary reported his concerns in writing to RIMS director Tulsi Mahto and health principal secretary K. Vidyasagar.
The report has caused a furore.
Speaker Shashank Shekhar Bhokta, who inspected the RIMS kitchen on Friday, has reserved his comments. Though RIMS director Mahto refrained from saying anything, health minister Rajendra Prasad Singh spoke candidly to The Telegraph.
“Even under manpower crunch, which has been put up before me as an immediate excuse for lapses, one can’t compromise on hygiene. I will visit RIMS on Saturday and discuss with hospital authorities on how to improve the situation,” the minister said.
The RIMS kitchen has some 15 employees, including cooks and helpers, who work on shift basis. Officially, there should be a dietician to instruct them on healthy cooking as well as a supervisor to monitor quality of food cooked as well as hygiene.
“I have observed some serious lapses and have pointed out the same in my report. This is an internal matter,” Choudhary told The Telegraph. “We send inspection reports to seniors from time to time.”
Being a part of the institution, the superintendent obviously didn’t want to tom-tom his role as a whistleblower.
“This is a large institution and such gaps are often observed during inspections. We will improve conditions,” he said, the unsaid message being “don’t sensationalise it”.
But the irony is that on August 16, the doors of the kitchen, which otherwise used to be open, were kept shut “for outsiders”.
The Telegraph team found more lapses in food distribution at the four-storey hospital. Though officially RIMS has six trolleys for distribution of cooked food, only two or three are used.
When a trolley arrives at the respective corridors, nurses inform attendants of the patients concerned to go and collect food. Hospital staffers don’t distribute food.
Sanjay Kumar, an attendant of a patient admitted in the surgery ward, said they all help each other unload food from the trolley. “Ideally, the food trolley should come to wards and be distributed by hospital staffers,” he said.
Will the health minister’s visit make any difference?