Charity Commissioner sent officials on May 2 – Private charitable hospitals deny entry to govt-appointed reps for the poor
No clear job description for the Aarogya Sevak say hospitals, though decision to appoint them was passed several months ago

When twenty-three Aarogya Sevaks appointed as per a Government Resolution (GR) reported for duty on May 2 at the city’s private charitable hospitals ­ including Jaslok, Breach Candy, Bombay Hospital, Lilavati, Hurkisondas, Nanavati and Hinduja ­ they were shown the door. Ironically, they were there to ensure that these esteemed institutions don’t mete out the same treatment to the poor, who are entitled to treatment free of cost » under the Bombay Public Trusts Act, 20 per cent of beds at private charitable hospitals are reserved for poor patients -most hospitals are not in compliance, and there has been a long legacy of fudged record keeping. In 2014, former public health secretary Meeta Lochan had told Mirror that only 4 to 7 per cent of the reserved beds at private hospitals were actually available to the poor.At the direction of Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis an online software was commissioned that can track and monitor admissions, as well as verify qualifying documentation such as a Ration CardBelow Poverty Line Card.However, the system that was announced two and a half months ago is not yet fully operational.

The Aarogya Sevak’s role is to ensure that the poor know their rights and can use them. The Sevak is also a representative who can guide the poor through the intimidating process of admissions, tests, and consultations, at a time of crisis. They are also available to help with data entry into the software once it is operational.

Dr PM Bhujang, president of Associations of Hospitals, said, “Yes, it is true that the government representatives came to the hospitals. But since there was no clarity on the actual role these people will play in the existing working of the hospital we asked them to leave.“

Instead of welcoming this first step toward instating transparency, the hospitals are suspicious of the oversight into their functioning. The Association of Hospitals went to meet the Charity Commissioner and requested a clear definition of the representatives’ job in writing. “Only after we receive this clarity, will we discuss this threadbare and take a decision on allowing them into the hospitals. Till such clarity is received there is fear that they might interfere in the hospitals’ existing functions,“ said Dr Bhujang.

However, state Health minister Deepak Sawant said, “A GR regarding the appointment of these representatives was issued a few months ago. It was not something done overnight.The hospitals had ample time to raise questions and study the Aarogya Sevak’s job profile. In the GR it is clearly mentioned that these personnel have been appointed under section 41 AA of the Bombay Public Trust Act 1950.“

Sawant says that there will be an inquiry into the hospitals refusing to allow the Aarogya Sevak to acquit their duties.

“The job definition could have been discussed after allowing the Aarogya Sevaks to take charge first and not derailing the transparency process initiated by the government,“ Sawant added.

To be certified as a private charitable hospital, it is mandated that 20 per cent of beds be reserved for the indigent and economically weak sections of society, and that at least 2 per cent of the annual turnover be dedicated to treating the poor. There are several benefits associated with the certification, including land on long lease at discounted rates; subsidies in utility bills; waivers and exemptions from income and octroi taxes, and relaxations to the floor space index (FSI).

In Maharashtra, 197 prime charitable hospitals were selected, where these Aarogya Sevaks will be deployed.These include 25 hospitals in Mumbai, for which the Aarogya Sevaks were trained by Rajiv Gandhi Jeevandayi Aarogya Yogana government officials.