Where there’s hope...

Disbursals for medical emergencies under the individual grants programme help desperately needy patients get life-saving treatment

She is a single mother of a young child, with a life-threatening heart condition, but Vijayalakshmi Kancharla is not a weak-hearted person by any means. For this resident of Guntur in Andhra Pradesh, the way forward for her was an open-heart surgery — there was no way Ms Kancharla could afford it.

That’s when the individual grants programme (IGP) of the Tata Trusts stepped in to lend a hand, enabling Ms Kancharla to undergo the procedure at the Madras Medical Mission in Chennai. “The Trusts are my near and dear, my well-wishers and my family,” says the grateful lady. “Their timely help allowed the hospital to take up my case on priority. Today I’m living a stress-free life with my child only because of this support.”

Ms Kancharla is among the thousands of beneficiaries who have been accorded financial support for essential medical treatment and post-treatment expenses under IGP’s medical emergencies programme. In 2018-19 alone, more than 2,800 such grants were awarded, with a disbursement of over 500 million. The Covid pandemic put a spanner in disbursals last year, but IGP was still able to help some 1,300 people, with a financial outlay in excess of 320 million. These disbursals cover up to 80% of a patient’s treatment and related expenses.

There is a thorough evaluation... We want to be sure that every grant given is to a deserving beneficiary.”

Kumar Chaitanya, head, grant finance and budgets, IGP

“The programme typically receives applications for cancer care, heart ailments and kidney disorders,” says Kumar Chaitanya, head, grant finance and budgets, IGP. In recent years, the Trusts have included cochlear implants and children’s therapies in their canopy of medical care (the programme has underwritten the treatment of more than 250 children for paediatric cardiac procedures in Mumbai alone).

IGP offers assistance to individuals who apply directly and also to patients recommended through a network of hospitals linked to the programme. Most of the beneficiaries come under the second category and the treatment cost is paid directly to the hospital where treatment is provided. Preference is usually given to beneficiaries receiving treatment in government, civic or charitable hospitals. If a specific treatment is unavailable in any of these, then a grant for treatment in a private hospital is considered.

IGP has refined its screening process over the past few years. “The cases from linked hospitals are approved after a rigorous process of due diligence,” adds Mr Chaitanya. “With direct applications from patients, there is a thorough evaluation of all the facts and parameters before a grant is approved. We want to be sure that every grant given is to a deserving beneficiary.”

The challenges created by Covid-19 led to a shift to online for applications and interactions

Keeping it going

When Covid-19 disrupted the regular working of organisations, the Tata Trusts office shifted to work-from-home mode and the IGP medical team set about organising its workflow so that patients continued to benefit and there was no interruption in grant disbursals. The team quickly changed the method of paper and hard copies to accepting and processing requests via email.

However, the shift from physical to online confused many who did not have access to emails or were unaware of the transition. In addition, there was the pandemic-induced disruption at hospitals to contend with. Sometimes patients could not reach their hospital or found that hospitals were treating only Covid patients. Procedures for ailments that were not life-threatening had to be deferred.

Applications began to pour in again as awareness grew of IGP’s new ways. Interactions and interviews shifted to phone calls and video meetings. With home and hospital visits being curtailed, the team had to rely on their experience to evaluate doubtful cases. “We adapted to the new normal, kept the work going and supported a number of beneficiaries,” says Kumudini Todankar, a programme officer with IGP medical.

The selection process for approval of a grant demands a dynamic evaluation of varying parameters and criteria: where the person is taking treatment, the beneficiary’s age and personal income, the family’s financial standing, the type of treatment required, etc.

In addition, there is continuous engagement with the applicant at all stages of the process, even post treatment, for feedback. The programme has a structured process in place that records the beneficiary’s experience in the hospital and with IGP. This feedback is used to improve the grant-giving mechanism.

Ringing in changes

Recent changes include opening up the application window for more hours, providing funding to patients undergoing treatment — instead of reimbursing expenses later — and giving extra weightage to younger patients.

Hearing and now

Hearing and now

For Mumbai resident Aftab Sheikh, despair and disappointment used to be constants. His daughter Aiman (seen above) was born deaf and her disability was a source of constant concern. Despite being a man of limited means, Mr Sheikh was determined to do all he could to help his daughter get rid of the handicap.

He found a ray of hope when he heard about IGP medical’s support for cochlear implants and applied for a grant. “I thought it would be very difficult to get funds from such a huge organisation,” says Mr Sheikh. “To my surprise, the staff was very open and they helped with my documentation and processing.”

Hearing loss affects millions in India and only some benefit from a hearing aid. Cochlear implants, especially for children, play a vital role in overcoming profound sensorineural hearing loss and in providing a lifetime’s gift of sound. The challenge faced by the Sheikh family was in meeting the high cost of the implant as well as payments for hospitalisation and follow-up treatment.

The monetary support Mr Sheikh received from the Trusts greenlighted his daughter’s cochlear implant surgery — at the Holy Family Hospital in Bandra, Mumbai — and Aiman was able to hear within weeks of undergoing the procedure. “The Trusts have given a new lease of life not only to my daughter but to our entire family,” says Mr Sheikh.

From acceptance and processing of applications to disbursement of funds and feedback from beneficiaries, every function of IGP has been fine-tuned to make it more efficient and effective. “We are bringing in technology to run our processes; this will not only cut the time taken but also augment our due diligence system,” says Mr Chaitanya.

Another area of change has seen IGP go beyond its donor function to smoothen the process for beneficiaries. It works to align hospitals, counsellors and sponsors so that beneficiaries don’t have to run around much. With its humane approach and technology-driven processes, IGP is primed to continue providing a healing touch to thousands of patients every year.