Infected worker found dead in KTPH worried about future
Indian national made two videos before he was believed to have fallen to his death, coroner's inquiry told
While he was warded in hospital for Covid-19, Mr Alagu Periyakaruppan was worried about his financial future and three young daughters, a coroner's inquiry heard yesterday.
But the construction worker, 46, exhibited no signs of suicidal thought or behaviour, and hospital staff found him to be pleasant and helpful, if a bit quiet, a doctor at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital (KTPH) told the court.
Then on April 23, five days into his stay at KTPH, the Indian national was found lying motionless without a pulse at an open-air staircase landing on the third storey. He was pronounced dead at 7.15am.
An autopsy later found Mr Alagu had died from multiple injuries consistent with those caused by a fall from height.
No evidence of pneumonia was found, and police investigations concluded there was no foul play, the inquiry heard.
Investigating officer, Inspector Jolene Ng, yesterday testified that a nurse putting on personal protective equipment (PPE) outside Mr Alagu's cubicle had heard a thud at about 6.15am.
She could not find him in the seventh-storey ward but noticed that a glass pane from the louvered window next to his bed had been placed neatly on the floor.
A pair of black slippers were also found next to the window.
The missing pane left a 79.7cm by 28.7cm opening.
A police report said Mr Alagu had likely removed the window pane, climbed through the gap and fell.
A metal hook found in Mr Alagu's possession could have been used to dislodge the pane, said Insp Ng. The window's supplier told her it would have been too hard to remove the pane with bare hands.
None of the witnesses called to the stand were able to say where the hook had come from.
Insp Ng said Mr Alagu did not have any salary issues or complaints about his employer, Multi-Lines Engineering.
On the day of his death, he recorded two videos at about 5.30am.
In one, he said in Tamil: "The doctors are saying that I have coronavirus. Therefore, I do not wish to stay alive. I am ready to lose my life. Nobody or nothing has anything to do with this. I have recorded this with a sober mind."
Dr Goh Kah Hong, who chaired a committee convened by KTPH to look into the death, told State Coroner Kamala Ponnampalam the hospital did not find any lapses in clinical care.
He said the incident was "not predictable nor preventable".
The head and senior consultant of psychological medicine said: "He mentioned some worries about his financial future as well as worrying about his kids in India...
"Those were common concerns by patients in similar situations."
Dr Goh said Mr Alagu would have been told, as with other patients, that he could recover from the disease.
Mr Alagu, who had a five-day history of fever, was admitted to the hospital on April 19.
Other than a mild headache, he was making good progress and was on track to be transferred to a community isolation facility, Dr Goh testified.
He said the committee has made several recommendations to minimise the isolation faced by Covid-19 patients and misconceptions about the virus.
Dr Goh said many migrant workers with Covid-19 had a "conceptual difficulty" in understanding why they were in hospital, even after the diagnosis was explained to them in a language they could understand.
Since the incident, the hospital has come up with measures to ensure that the workers get the right information.
For example, it has produced videos that are played in different native languages on the television sets in patient cubicles.
And while the hospital has always made sure that patients can stay in touch with friends by sourcing phone chargers and top-up cards for them, its staff now make it a point to better connect with them, such as writing their names on their PPE.
Dr Goh said the pandemic was still evolving in April and patient numbers had become overwhelming.
"We did the best we could," he added.
LAST CALL TO FAMILY
The New Paper previously reported that Mr Alagu had worked in Singapore for 10 years and was the sole breadwinner for his family of six, whom he would call every day.
After the tragedy, his wife, Madam A. Panjali, 40, told TNP his last call to them was on April 22, the day before his death.
She and their daughters, aged 16, 11 and six, have found it hard to come to terms with his death and to make ends meet.
A donation drive organised by Nee Soon GRC MP Louis Ng and Ms Dipa Swaminathan, the founder of ItsRainingRaincoats, raised more than $200,000 for the family.
His nephew, Mr Veerappan Meenakshi Sundaram, who works in the same company, attended yesterday's inquiry.
State Coroner Kamala will give her findings this afternoon.
Migrant Workers' Centre (24-hour helpline): 6536-2692
Transient Workers Count Too: 6297-7564
Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics: 6341-5535
Samaritans of Singapore: 1800-221-4444
Singapore Association for Mental Health: 1800-283-7019