Apeksha Hospital Maharagama has come under the spotlight for stories doing the rounds that the distribution of food, sent by donors and meant for patients, is mismanaged
Administration blunders at Apeksha Hospital, Maharagama (formerly known as Cancer Hospital) have brought a negative impact to its day-to-day work, it is alleged.
The donations received by this hospital are said to be mismanaged by a certain group that has affiliations to the ruling party trade union. Even the dry rations supplied by the donors for the inmates’ breakfast and lunch are alleged to be taken away from the hospital kitchen; depriving each patient the quantity of food recommended by the nutritionist. Although these vagaries have been informed to the Health Ministry, in writing, by the hospital staff, the Ministry’s failure to hold inquiries and bring the offenders to book has paved the way for the wrongdoers to continue with these activities, the helpless staff told the Daily Mirror.
They accused the former Director and the present Acting Director of granting authority to the Acting Administrative Officer all powers and critics point out that this has led to the present situation.
“From the time the Acting Administrative Officer (AO) was appointed for this post, the quality and the recommended quantity of food each patient ought to have has dropped drastically. In addition, she has messed up the entire hospital administrative system and the staff are accusing the former late Director and the present Acting Director for all this. The misuse of the hospital ambulance and other official vehicles, harassment meted out against those who are not cooperating with her political ideology, depriving the temporary staff of being confirmed are few of the allegations leveled against her. She doesn’t have any experience in how to attend to the administration work because she was attached to another division as a clerical officer before she was promoted,” a senior MLT officer said on conditions of anonymity.
According to these sources donors, who donate dry rations to be used for breakfast and lunch of the inmates, have been deceived by the said group.
The Daily Mirror visited Apeksha Hospital recently and met Acting Director Dr. Vijith Gunasekera, Deputy Director Dr. Lalith Poddalagoda and Acting Administrative Officer Sakunthala Wickremasinghe to get their responses for the allegations leveled against them.
The official documents showed that there were 591 in-house patients when this newspaper visited the hospital, but the hospital authority has told the donor, who offered the lunch, that there are 1100 patients. Since there was an allegation that the patients are not given the recommended food quantities, this paper had an opportunity to pay an undetected visit to Ward 6 to observe how true the allegations leveled regarding the quality and quantity of food served to the patients.
Ambulance running chart
When spoken to the donor, who is a reputed businessman from Maharagama, he was disturbed to understand how the hospital administrators had given him incorrect data regarding the number of inmates and how the patients have been deprived of a quality meal; this was despite he having supplied enough of dry rations for 1100 inmates.
“We were told that there are 1100 patients including the bystanders. Even if we were told that there are 2500 patients I would have obliged to the hospital’s request. I was told that each patient has to be given a certain amount of protein and that was why all donors are asked to supply 85kg of fish/chicken and other nutritious food. Following the request for today’s lunch, I supplied 85kgs of thalapath fish fillet. When I asked whether we can have a look at how the meals are prepared, I was told that outsiders are not entertained in the kitchen, but, instead, that one of the family members could come to a ward of our choice to offer lunch to a few patients. Since I had some urgent work, my family did not visit the hospital to serve the meals. I am thoroughly disappointed to see the pictures of tiny pieces of fish served to inmates; after I supplied enough fish for lunch. The hospital wanted me to supply this quantity for 1100 patients, so if there were only 591 patients, why couldn’t they serve a big piece of fish for each patient receiving treatment. This is a daylight robbery. My mother died of cancer 15 years ago and since then, in her memory, I offer alms on her birth and death anniversaries. On behalf of all those who make donations to this hospital I thank you all for bringing this fraud to our notice which I will share with the other donors. In future if I still want to give alms, I would keep an eye on what really happens to my donation,” the donor said.
When inquired as to why the hospital misled the donors and take more quantities than what the hospital really needs, Acting Administrative Officer Sakunthala Wickremasinghe said that the numbers include the minor staff as well.
“As we cannot tell the exact numbers we request all the donors to provide dry rations for 1100 which is the flat total. As per the Health Ministry circular, the minor staff is entitled to meals. This is applicable to all government hospitals in the country. This circular does not mention that the donors should provide food for the minor staff, but as the kitchen staff cannot prepare two different meals, there is no other option, but to request dry rations for the minor staff as well,” Wickremasinghe said.
When inquired whether the hospital informs the donors that the quantities requested are not only for the patients, but also for 400 minor staff, Wickremasinghe said that they do not, but in the event, if any of the donors makes an inquiry, the hospital would have provided the information.
Though it is through the donations that the breakfast and lunch are provided for the minor staff, one of the sources from the administrative department revealed to this newspaper as to how the hospital obtains rations from the Health Ministry for the minor staff every week. “There are days that the hospital doesn’t receive donations, so the patients and the minor staff are provided meals from what the Health Ministry supplies. Even when there are donations the hospital still requests the same quantities from the Health Ministry. All these unused food is taken to their homes by the said group,” sources alleged.
The Daily Mirror spoke to another cross- section of donors who knew nothing about the alleged food scam at Apeksha Hospital.
“We were happy thinking that our hard-earned money was spent on a worthy cause. But now we know half of what we have donated could have been taken away by a certain group. How can human beings do this to medicine and food items donated on behalf of the innocent patients who are battling to stay alive? We trusted the hospital management and that was why we handed over medicine/ dry rations to be given to the patients. We have never been told that the minor staffers too are amongst these 1100 patients. We were always informed that there are 1100 patients on any given day. It is up to the Health Ministry to supply food for the minor staff and how wrong it is for the hospital to give food for the hospital workers out of our money. We understand that they receive higher salaries than that of government teachers who are now protesting for a higher salary. Why should we feed these government employees? We only want to see that the hospital inmates are given healthy food. Unless your paper brought this up with us, we would have thought that we have given breakfast/ lunch for 1100 patients,” one donor said in anger.
Improper actions of the kitchen staff
Another angry donor Mrs. K.C. Perera said how she suspected improper actions of the kitchen staff when she came to serve sago drink for the patients a few months ago. “I was asked to supply 12kg of sago, 40 coconuts, 1kg cashew nuts and 1kg currants. When I visited the hospital to offer the alms, I was shocked to see that there wasn’t a single piece of cashew nut nor currants in the dessert. Although I supplied 40 coconuts, the sago was watery and I believe they have not used all the coconuts I supplied. In fact I asked my husband to lodge a complaint with the hospital administration, but he did not heed my request,” Perera said.
Meanwhile, it has come to light as to how the acting Administrative Officer (AO) had once attempted to influence the Deputy Director (DD) to silence him as the latter has openly accused the former of misusing the donations received by the hospital.
When inquired from Wickremasinghe as to whether there was any truth about the allegation that she once offered a packet of pomegranate juice and a box of biscuits to the DD- which was part of a donation by a local group living overseas- the AO refuted the allegation claiming that when she goes out of Colombo she makes it a point to bring gifts to the staff.
“You have been misled by someone who is against me. As a gesture, I make it a point to bring some gifts to the staff. I may have given what you said to the DD upon my return from the outstations. You may be referring to one of these gifts. I have not misused the donations,” Wickremasinghe added.
However, Deputy Director Dr. Lalith Poddalagoda confirmed to the Daily Mirror how the AO once tried to influence him in order to silence him.
“I have openly accused the AO of misusing the donations received by the hospital. These donations have been given not to the hospital staff, but to the patients; especially in the children’s wards. How wrong is it for a certain group to use these donations? Since I have openly accused her on many occasions, she once sent me a packet of imported pomegranate juice and another big packet which I believe to be a box of biscuits. The minor staff member who brought these to me said “AO Madam wanted to give these to you Sir’. I was furious and wanted her to take it back. Since the staff members fear the AO, she was reluctant to take it back. Since I was about to leave to attend a meeting, I gave it to the minor staff employee who was cleaning my room at that time. These frauds have to be stopped immediately,” Dr. Poddalagoda warned.
Meanwhile, one of the hospital employees, who has access to the kitchen, speaking on condition of anonymity revealed how dry rations are taken from the kitchen.
“Once the donations are sent to the kitchen certain high-ranked officers take most of them home. This is not a secret. The entire hospital staff knows how these goods are taken. Recently one of these officers who took a bag of rice with her has forgotten to unload it when getting out of an official vehicle and it came back to the hospital. It is alleged that most of the chicken supplied by the donors is sold to nearby boutiques; at a lower price. That is why the patients are given tiny pieces of fish/chicken,” the sources alleged.
According to sources, there are frequent complaints from the wards that the dinner sent to their wards is not adequate for the patients.
“The hospital won’t accept donations for dinner. When I checked why lesser quantities are sent more often, it was revealed, that the required quantities are not issued to the kitchen as most of the released stocks from the stores are directly loaded to the vehicles these officers travel in. There were instances when ward nurses bought food for their patients,” sources alleged.
This newspaper is also in possession of running charts of hospital ambulance (LW 1814) which reveal how these officers have used it to get themselves dropped off at their respective houses after duty. According to the Administration Department only the Acting Director, Deputy Director and the Accountant are entitled to official transport, but not other officials.
“Unlike in other hospitals, our patients’ health condition deteriorates very often and either we have to transfer them to a hospital that has more facilities or get down doctors or MLTs. And sometimes we get down even medicines for an emergency. For all these the hospital needs ambulances and they cannot be used to provide office transport. There are times when we request for ambulances from nearby hospitals when needed. Although we have complained about this to the Health Ministry several times, due to unknown reasons, the Ministry has so far not investigated any of these malpractices nor sent any acknowledgement,” sources said.
LINAC Unit incident not investigated
Meanwhile it is learnt as to how the Hospital Management failed to report two male nurses to the Health Ministry for locking up two female nurses in the LINAC Unit (the radiation treatment unit which delivers high energy x-rays/ electrons) for more than one hour.
“This unit is underground. On March 17 when these two female nurses were attending to some urgent work that had to be finalised before the following day, these two male nurses had locked them up inside this radiation treatment unit that emits high electrons. This had happened around 3 pm and there was no way for the female nurses to find a way out. Luckily another hospital employee had opened the door and managed to switch off the lights that were on. If they were locked up for further 15 minutes these two nurses would have met with death due to the radiation. When this was informed to the then Director and the acting AO, no action was taken. Later the two nurses had lodged complaints at the Maharagama Police Station. Since the hospital management did not take any action a formal complaint had been lodged by the two nurses with the Police, but the Health Ministry did not take any action until Apeksha Hospital Nurses Union Leader R. K. Lawrence wrote to the Health Ministry that a trade union action will be taken if they failed to inquire into the matter,” sources added.
According to the sources when an inquiry was held by a ministry official the hospital administrators hadn’t allowed the officer who opened the LINAC Unit door to give an open statement.
“We have got an audio recording of this staffer confirming to her Superior as to how she had helped these two nurses, who were locked up, to escape. When we wanted to present this recording to the investigative officer he rejected it and wanted it handed over to the Acting AO. It is clearly evident how bias this inquiring officer was. We will not expect an unbiased report,” sources added.
Senior Assistant Secretary (Investigation Branch), Health Ministry Sudath Ratnaweera when contacted said that he had received the inquiry report and it will be sent to the hospital soon after adhering to the formal procedure.
“This staffer has given a statement at the inquiry. If the investigation officer refused to accept the audio recording why the aggrieved party couldn’t send it to us directly is questionable. I cannot accept mere allegations,” Ratnaweera said.
Act. Director refutes all allegations
Meanwhile, Apeksha Hospital Acting Director Dr. Vijith Gunasekera refuted all the allegations levelled against the acting AO and said that with the help of the acting AO, he manages the hospital administration perfectly.
“This is the first time I came to know that the donations received by my office are being mismanaged. I have not received any complaints about the food served to the inmates. I have to check on whether there is any truth to the allegation that extra dry ration has been requested from the donors,” Dr. Gunasekera said.
When asked as to why action had not been taken regarding the hospital ambulance being used to provide transport to hospital staff Dr. Gunasekera said that he has not authorised an ambulance for office transport, but added that he has to check on how true the leveled allegations are.
“Only the Director is entitled to office transport and not anyone else. If the staffers work till late, based on the work they have to finish, I authorise hospital vehicles, but not ambulances,” added Dr. Gunasekera.