The pandemic broke out complete mayhem with people running from pillar to post searching for hospital beds, oxygen cylinders, ventilators, and medicines. Acts of kindness have held the country in a dire need of medical supplies, from collapsing.
Such an example is projected by Covid Hospital Help Desk, a website created to search hospitals available for COVID-19 patients in Chennai. In conversation with The Logical Indian, Vikram Ravi Ramanathan details the mechanism and prospect of the website and the group of volunteers who have been avidly working for the cause. He was a founding member of a social media analytics company, Unmetric and now works as the Director of Operation in a larger social media management company called Falcon.io based out of Copenhagen. He has been actively involved in the non-profit space and believes in "building impact using technologies".He is also a co-founder in a non-profit space called Prayogshala.
Vikram said the idea of the website sprouted from the Chennai Volunteer Task Force community that he was part of, in a Whatsapp group. A community service group launched for COVID-19 related aid in April.
He explained the beginning which was riddled with challenges, "We had nine task forces for vaccination drives, awareness campaigns, and so on. One of the most critical things was hospital help, and we started doing that on WhatsApp and excel sheets. So any time we would see any request coming through WhatsApp and Twitter we would put it in the WhatsApp group. Subsequently, search around and provide the data we had found. It wasn't systematic at all people decided to kind of step back, pause for a bit, take a breath and build a platform which is now Covid Hospital Help Desk."
Covid Hospital Help Desk is now a full-fledged website that was established to diminish disorder that arose from anxious attempts by families of the patients to procure beds and the potential duplicity in such a state. The patient's information is sent across multiple channels of government lines and NGOs to find respite which can lead to confusion and errors.
"People are sending in details everywhere to government and several NGOs, who are working on the same patient. You are taxing the system further. In fact, there was a patient who was booked in two hospitals at the same time which took the opportunity of a bed for another patient for few hours ." said Vikram.
The website has been designed to meet the ease of the people. A person who visits the website has to fill in requisite details including spO2 (Oxygen Level) mandatorily. This automatically creates a personalized tracker for the patient. This tracks the status for a patient's better good. The bed request is processed through the Slack channel. There is also a Triage team, who remain at the frontline attending calls for requests. They are trained in essential medical knowledge
Vikram explained why they have to be trained, " The reason we do that is one, they need to understand these levels and the intricacies involved a little bit more. Two, they are the ones who are going to call people as an attendant. So, if someone is going to call the already tensed family of the patient, they are going to be in a vulnerable state. They need to have a certain level of empathy, knowledge, and idea regarding handling the situation."
"The medical training that the Triage teams attend is conducted by a doctor who's an expert in COVID. Dr Divya manages the training of people who come from a medical or non-medical background," he added.
He also remarked that they were managing ICU ventilators up until last week but paused the operations because the government is managing it to a good level and they do not want any room for duplicity in the system.
Elaborating on the inner functionings of the team Mr. Vikram recounted, "We immediately pass the information regarding the need of bed and oxygen level to what we call a Command Center which constitutes all of the volunteers and it goes into our Zoho Backend. Shyam another core member has built a Zoho backend. This instigates the work for the Triage team and the search begins."
"The way we're searching for a hospital is multifold, we are using a lot of the existing databases. And beyond that we built our own systems in the backend because we don't want to expose them to the front end, we have those things behind the scenes. Over the past four weeks, we also have built a network of doctors that rebuild relationships with hospitals, now these are not firm partnerships. These are purely based on a cordial systematic understanding of our work." he explained.
He highlights how their methodical and ethical way of working has contributed to establishing trust of the hospitals who now inform them in case of any vacancy.
Vikram informs, "We constantly keep updating the tracker and people, even if we don't find anything."
"The hospitals may have a discharge in few hours, and may be able to do now, is that assurance of getting a bed? No, but is that some sort of hope and people desperately need hope at this time." he cautions.
The group has deployed a systematic outline for well-structured team forces, each directing their own work. The core team consists of Vikram himself, Julian R, Shyam Sundar Nagarajan, and Shruthi L. Who collectively refer to themselves as System Thinking Group, as he described "We are constantly thinking about the system of the group" They have onboard over 100 volunteers which function in four shifts each pertaining of 6 hours and make it a 24 run endeavour. Post shift a hand-over takes place amongst the volunteers in a brief meeting which transitions the continuity of the work.
Apart from the Triage Team and Command Centre, the group incorporates the Data Validation team which verifies and validates Whatsapp group forwards, messages, and existing data in the system. Lastly, The Care Team which acts as the backbone of the entire group of volunteers.
The volunteers who have witnessed several deaths and have been in a stressed environment in finding beds are rejuvenated by the Care team.
"Every day we have an open session which is called "Vanga Pazhgalam" run by Julian. It is just like an informal meet at 6 o'clock where we get together with whosoever is available and just talk to destress," he shared.
Several volunteers have never met and come from different walks of life. Facing a need to set a culture, these meetings have been organized to not succumb to the pushbacks they have experienced in such a turmoiled situation. " In yesterday's session two of our volunteers sang, and we are now planning a stand-up comedy show for them," revealed Vikram.
On questioning what drives them to work undauntedly for hours barring professional and personal commitments. He stated, "I think what motivates us is that everybody who has come here is not experts in this field. But they genuinely understood that this is one of the biggest problems we are facing right now. It's a high-stakes scale. In fact, in the onboarding, we mention very clearly that this will be a high-stress environment that you are going to be in so so they knew that while coming in. And I think it's the joy of being able to help someone. I think what drives people more than anything even anything is getting that tick mark after a person gets hospitalized and going to all means to hospitalize a person when it was difficult."
"The automated message on the slack stating someone has been hospitalized because of us encourages us to work more," he adds.
The devised plan and administration of the website and the group has rendered a practical and more convenient, easy flowing method of computing all the collated sources. Vikram notifies, "We very consciously called ourselves the Covid Hospital Help Desk even though we are from Chennai. The reason is we knew this can go beyond Chennai."
To extend their help, the group has already given their code base and system in Tirunelveli, so that people could also use the same mantra and execute better reach. Moreover, the group has now associated with India Shield which is a pan-India group. " India Shield with whom I've been talking over the past few days were very impressed with our system. They want to use this for the work they are doing across India. We only deal with finding hospitals but they do everything from beds, oxygen, medicines to vaccination drives. The system to be employed is the same as the process that we followed for they were just really impressed with many themes and structures that we thought through even though we are in a chaotic time," he delineated.
For building such a search engine of websites for hospitals the Covid Hospital Help Desk has conferred an exemplary cause. Indicating the vision behind this task force Vikram says, "The fundamental ethos goes back to the Chennai flood when a lot of people were trying to help but there was a lot of duplicities ." he stated.
"We want NGOs, Civil societies, and citizens to join forces to help fight the biggest crisis we have faced since Indian Independence and give the same system for anyone doing any help across India," claimed Vikram.
To our readers, he wants to convey that," If you are looking for a hospital bed please submit your request to us. Secondly, if you want to volunteer, you can come and volunteer with us and join forces. Lastly, which is very important, if you are not sure about what you are forwarding do not forward it."
"Do not forward anything thinking it may be verified if you are not confirmed. Especially in such a scenario, it's breaking the system. I've been in the social media industry for more than 10 years. I have never seen social media behave so badly as it is now." Vikram warned.
The entire country has been mired in such desperate times. Deaths are escalating in light of the paucity of needed supplies. Community service has kept the country upright when the government couldn't. The altruistic approach of Covid Hospital Health Desk entails the crux of the society which is constructed with compassion and equipped with humanitarian deeds.
The achievement and continuous efforts of the team resonate with Vikram's notion as he rightfully says, " It's a privilege that I am able to help someone."
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