THE Goa Medical College and Hospital faces family and social ire for disposing the body of Januz Gonsalves, a youth from Aldona who died of unnatural cause on September 23. His body was mistaken for that of Vishant Naik, which had been lying unclaimed in the GMCH for over six months. Gonsalves’ family had kept his body in the GMC morgue pending funeral arrangements. Following the uproar Health Minister Vishwajit Rane ordered suspension of Dr Edmund Rodrigues, head of department of forensic medicine and toxicology, and two others for gross negligence in discharge of their duties. The government has also ordered a probe by the Crime Branch to investigate whether there was criminal angle and foul play in the case. The family has filed a complaint against Dr Pradip Naik, the dean and the doctors who conducted the autopsy on Gonsalves’ body.
It has now emerged that Gonsalves’ body was kept in one of the 180 cabinets in the new morgue of the GMCH but was shifted to another cabinet after the morgue malfunctioned. According to the GMC staff, the movement of bodies from one compartment to another led to mix-up and subsequent goof-up. The panel headed by the collector had given approval for disposal of four unclaimed bodies, including that of Vishant Naik, lying in the GMC morgue for more than six months. The GMCH staff handed the body of Gonsalves for disposal mistaking it for that of Vishant Naik, leading to not only embarrassment for the health officials but also giving rise to suspicion about malpractices in the only medical teaching institution in the state. The mix-up by the GMCH staff took place despite the fact that body of Gonsalves was properly coded. It is apparent that the GMCH staff did not verify the body before handing it over to the CCP, leading to questions being raised whether standard operations procedure as required was followed by the body disposal officer, who happens to be the head of the department. Even a cursory look at the bodies would have led to identification of the body of Januz, which was fresh being just five days old as compared to that of Naik, and the mix-up could have been avoided.
The GMCH ultra-modern morgue was constructed at a cost of Rs 12 crore. It was supposed to end the problems faced in storage of dead bodies and also help in conducting autopsies using modern facilities installed therein. However, the new facility has failed to live up to the expectations. It has always been in the news for wrong reasons. From the outset, its refrigeration system has been failing causing bodies to be decomposed. The refrigeration system has failed quite often and a similar failure occurred last week forcing the staff to shift the bodies from the non-functional cabinet to others. The facilities for conducting postmortem in the new building have been left unused and the doctors still conduct autopsies in the old building. The reason is that the new building does not have adequate drainage and ventilation facilities. It has also come to light that the government is yet to clear the dues to the firm that built the building, which in turn has refused to share the software installed to maintain temperature in the refrigeration system. The role of GSIDC, which maintains the new building of the department and facilities therein, should to be probed to find out who is responsible for frequent failures.
That the refrigeration system at the morgue has been malfunctioning for long has been known to the health ministry, yet no action has been taken to rectify the deficiencies. There have been several instances of bodies rotting due to failure of facilities at the morgue. High-tech instruments installed as teaching aids and other equipment have been left to rust due to constant non-use. Though the number of cabinets to store bodies has increased by more than two fold with the new morgue, GMCH authorities have not provided the department with adequate staff to man the increased workload. Moreover, the officials in the forensic department have been complaining without any redress that the deficiencies in the new building are beyond repairs and that there was need for construction of new facility to carry out autopsies. The Gonsalves case has thus revealed a multiple organ failure in the GMCH and state health ministry. Will the Health Minister do some introspection and act against his top officers as well as GMCH bosses who might be equally responsible for the deep emotional wound inflicted on the Januz Gonsalves’ family along with the doctors and staff of the department of forensic medicine and toxicology?