Thursday, July 15, 2010
Affordable care for all
COLUMN: AT THE HELM
P.V. Antony, managing director, heads The Medical Trust Hospital. This landmark at Kochi is a magnet for patients from all strata of society
By Shevlin Sebastian
In March, 2000, a six-year-old girl Lekha (name changed) was caught in a grinding machine in a rice mill at Haripad. Both her arms were ripped off.
She was rushed to the Medical Trust Hospital at Kochi. “Somebody had the good sense to salvage and bring the arms along,” says P.V. Antony, the managing director.
In a 12-hour operation the surgical team was able to re-implant the hands back on. A few days after the operation, Antony was walking past the out-patient room when he came across an astonishing sight.
“I saw Lekha doing a drawing with crayons on a piece of paper,” he says. “Somehow, I experienced a tremendous joy when I saw that scene. It made me realise that the work we are rendering at the hospital is worthwhile. I also understood that when we save a patient, we also bring joy and relief to the family.”
Recently, Lekha completed her Class 10 exams and came to the hospital. “She has turned out to be a beautiful girl,” says Antony, with a smile.
The Medical Trust Hospital, a landmark at Kochi, was founded by the late Dr P.A. Varghese in 1973. Antony, the eldest son, became executive director in 1990.
“My father told me that we should provide treatment to anybody who comes to the hospital, whether rich or poor,” says Antony. “He also insisted that health care should not be a totally business module. There should be compassion for the patients. I have tried to follow both these rules.”
Maybe, that is the reason for the hospital's continued success. Interestingly, most of the patients belong to the poor and the middle class. “When you enter, you don't have to check your purse,” says Antony. The majority of the patients who come for treatment are critically ill, with multiple problems. There are also accident victims, who are not carrying any money with them.
“They tend to be the ordinary person on the street,” says Antony. “We provide discounts to deserving patients, and in the process write off bills to the extent of Rs 50,000 per day.”
The hospital, which has a turnover of Rs 80 crore, has 1500 employees. There are 750 beds, and the occupancy rate is more than 90 percent. The number of outpatients is around 1300 a day.
Antony says the hospital is constantly striving to improve its services. “Recently, we introduced out-patient consultation from 7 to 8 p.m.,” he says. This is for the convenience of people who are working. “We discovered that when the husband and wife are both working, they find it difficult to come in for routine check-ups during the course of the working day. So, this particular time is convenient for them.”
The suggestions to increase efficiency and services come from the 3.30 p.m. meeting that Antony holds every day with different departments. “Management is all about improvement,” he says. “Once you build a hospital, put people there, and then don't bother, it is not going to work.”
Antony, who sees different types of people at his hospital every day, is worried about the direction of society.
“We are living in a deeply materialistic culture,” he says. “People are over-ambitious. They spend more than they earn, and eat too much of junk food. Most people lead sedentary lives and do not do any exercise. This inactivity contributes to illnesses.”
He says people suffer from diabetes, hypertension, heart problems and obesity, apart from infectious disease like diarrhoea, malaria and viral fever.
“The viral fevers are more virulent now,” he says. “The virus has mutated and is resistant to drugs.” Also, Malayalis are travelling a lot more. “So diseases like malaria have been brought in from outside.”
Meanwhile, to keep Medical Trust healthy, the company is on a trajectory of growth. A medical college, a 550-bed corporate hospital, a 650-bed general hospital, and an Ayurveda centre are being built at Irumpanam, on the outskirts of Kochi, on an investment of Rs 750 crore.
“The growth of the city is towards the Kakkanad side,” says Antony. “A person from Kottayam can come directly to our hospital, without coming into the city,” says Antony. The first phase is scheduled to be completed by 2012.
It is a big responsibility. Sometimes when the pressure gets too much, Antony goes to his father’s grave, at Ambikapuram, places a candle, and speaks to him. “I feel very relaxed after this,” he says. “I get the inner strength to carry on.”
(The New Indian Express, Kerala)