Walking along the empty corridors and taking a peek into many of the now vacant chambers, reminds me of the time when the AOD Hospital of Digboi was once thronged by patients (both indoor and outdoor). The passageways now wear a deserted look, the waiting room almost empty, with a handful of patients and an alarmingly fewer number of doctors attending on them. These doctors have been giving unflinching medical support to patients, but again, only a few of them are left. The stillness inside is unnerving. This was the hospital where I was born. This was where we used to come for treatment. The tiny hilltop still wears the huge edifice like a crown and all around is greenery, a balm for the eyes and a subtle reassurance for ailing patients. Such has been its aura. For all of us � the AOD people residing in Digboi as well as others in its vicinity, the hospital has provided relentless medical services for decades. And now the silence within is a grim reminder of an excellent institution�s gradual diminution into obscurity.
The heritage of Assam Oil Division Hospital of IOCL, Digboi dates back to the British era when this structure was constructed to cater to the medical needs of the erstwhile Assam Oil Corporation employees. Since its inception in 1906 (when it was merely a Health Care Facility), this institution (now under the Indian Oil Corporation Limited, Digboi) has been serving the people of Digboi and adjoining areas. The hospital has an eventful history. This was where the first ECG machine in the Northeast was installed and operated. The first intensive care unit with facilities for cardiac monitoring, defibrillation, external cardiac pacing and bird respirator, was set up. When the hospital was taken over by the Indian Oil Corporation, it was revamped on a massive scale. The number of beds was increased from 180 to 200 and a maternity wing was added simultaneously. Older than the AMCH (Dibrugarh), the AOD Hospital extended its health care facilities to outstation patients from the neighbouring States of Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur. A modern Occupational Health Centre (OHC) was established in 1983. The hospital had been actively involved in community development and public health services through numerous medical camps where check-up as well as treatment were provided.
In terms of important medical features, the AOD Hospital introduced a number of firsts like the first Burns Unit in Northeast India, with state-of-the-art technology. The Unit was successful in treating and saving patients with 80% burn injuries. A modern morgue installed in 2011 was yet another milestone considering the sophistication in its operation. The ICU as well as the ECG machine that have already been mentioned were some of the notable firsts introduced in the AOD Hospital. The hospital boasted of some specialist doctors with degrees like FRCS, MRCP, diploma in cardiology, as well as in recent times, a surgeon trained in robotic surgery.
In a bid to empower women and provide gainful employment to them, an establishment of General Nursing and Midwifery (GNM), the Assam Oil School of Nursing, Digboi was initiated in 1986, recognised by the Indian Nursing School, New Delhi with an annual intake of 20 underprivileged students to produce well over 400 trained and efficient nurses with 100% placement. A plan to expand the institution to incorporate more students and modern equipment for training has already been implemented with the construction of the gigantic building nearing completion. But when there is a dearth of staff and patients at the hospital, we wonder how these trainee nurses will put to practice the valuable knowledge gained. The AOD Hospital which could have provided a hands-on training to these graduating students and fresh trainees, now stands a mute spectator to the majority of nurses travelling to Tinsukia and Dibrugarh for some first-hand experience of paramedical procedures. The unfortunate exit of specialist doctors and well-trained nurses will perhaps render the hospital defunct in the near future. The number of patients coming to the hospital for treatment has declined significantly. Most patients are referred outside for treatment due to acute shortage of specialist doctors here. A few of the expert doctors whose presence in the hospital drew in scores of patients once, have left for better opportunities outside due to the inadequate requisite environment for them to utilise their expertise and the pay package which is incommensurate with their qualifications.
What is further intriguing is the unfeeling and unsympathetic approach of the present MP Rameshwar Teli. Has he forgotten that at the far end of upper Assam lies a beautiful little town, an old British colony that reeks of his sheer negligence. The hospital that could have been an enormous help to the people residing in the remote corner of upper Assam, is gradually advancing towards oblivion.
Empowering the AOD Hospital and expanding the building to add various other departments like Cardiology, Oncology, Nephrology, Neurology etc., will turn it into a profit-making venture while catering to the needs of the ever-increasing number of patients. This will in turn develop the latest concept of Medical Tourism in one of the far-flung areas of Upper Assam. Digboi will be seen in a new light and IOC will get the credit for this great CSR initiative. A good way of implementing this idea would be to develop the hospital on a Public Private Partnership model and start with outsourcing some of its departments like Diagnostics, Biomedical, Radiology etc. This will benefit not only patients but doctors as well who will have better access to modern machinery for treatment. It is worth noting that the institutions based on the PPP model are already running successfully in different parts of the country and Digboi itself is witness to one such institution.
Earlier, much correspondence was made with the IOC management and to the present MP, R Teli, to bring to their notice the pitiable condition of the AOD Hospital. However, all fell upon deaf ears. The restructuring and makeover of the AOD Hospital, Digboi will not only be a blessing for thousands of people, but also serve as an image enhancement of the Corporation through its efforts at extending healthcare facilities as a major CSR initiative.
There are many who have left Digboi in search of better opportunities, many of whom were born in the AOD Hospital. They have settled comfortably in different parts of the country and beyond, and I wish they had knowledge of the quandary we are in. We hope for a silver lining amidst the clouds of despair.