THE usual reports we hear are of patients complaining about poor hospital facilities and service. That was prior to the pandemic so there was more time for hospital management to straighten up things that needed improvement.
It is entirely a different situation when there is a constant rise in the number of COVID-19 cases daily. Hospital logistics shrank to the edges that compelled the Inter-Agency Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) to use hotels and schools as isolation or quarantine rooms.
The grim reality was that even emergency rooms, wards, intensive care units, isolation facilities of private and public hospitals were overcrowded and used as COVID wards so that outpatient departments were closed, a condition that bumped off other patients.
That was the scenario when cases spiked in the third quarter of 2020. The situation looked more pitiful last week when even the temporary emergency tents, container vans, ambulances, and private cars outside the hospitals were full of patients waiting for admission.
There is enough proof of that but health officials seem blind. When the Department of Health insisted that “hospitals are not full yet,” people were at their wits’ end, rushing to look for hospitals for their infected family member.
For a certain family, when their father had difficulty breathing last week of March, they called 20 hospitals, including the government-run One Hospital Command Center that recommended eight hospitals.
Every single hospital was full and not one hospital could refill his father’s oxygen tank as well. In another hospital that finally took them in, the patient was put on a stretcher with the oxygen tank outside the door of the ER. That was where he expired.
For another family from Quezon City, their search for a hospital took them as far as Pampanga when their father had a fever and difficulty breathing. They called the One Hospital Command Center but were told that they would be 32nd in line.
Marikina Rep. Stella Luz Quimbo seems to agree with the observation of many that the One Hospital Command Center is a failure as it could not cope with calls that grew from 70 calls per day in February to 400 calls per day when COVID-19 cases spiked two weeks ago.
If the center, after all, could not serve its intended purpose of properly informing and referring patients to hospitals, then it is a failure. Those in charge admitted that they do not have the technology to forward calls but they had all the time to improve the facility since its creation last year.
Then when asked about what patients who were unable to reach the One Hospital Command Center should do during a congressional inquiry, DOH Sec. Duque said they should ask their personal doctors for advice if they should go for alternatives to hospitalization.
With that statement, it’s like telling patients that they are on their own, which is exactly what’s happening on the grounds and driveways of hospitals now.
Hospitals in Metro Manila and nearby provinces were overwhelmed with record daily infections, making the supply of medical equipment like personal protective gears, gloves, and oxygen tanks very low.
Contrary to pronouncements by the government that the national task force was doing a good job in addressing the COVID-19 cases, private research groups and other doctors were looking at a different picture. They said the conditions turned from bad to worse.
With new confirmed 9,216 cases as of Thursday, the total confirmed cases reached 828,366 in the country. That makes it one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in Asia. Of that number, the active cases reached 167,279 while there were 60 new reported deaths, bringing the total deaths to 14,119.
The Alliance of Health Workers whose members are directly in contact with COVID-19 patients revealed their sentiments to TV reporters last week saying that a year has passed, but the basic problem confronting health workers in relation to the Covid-19 issue remains.
They said that until now the government does not have a clear and comprehensive plan on how to fight and eliminate COVID-19, further evaluating the DOH and Duterte administration’s one-year performance in handling COVID-19 pandemic as “inefficient, negligent and a failure.”
Not anybody can contradict the health workers especially if their statement is based on experience on the ground. Their familiarity about hospital driveways that were instantly converted to emergency rooms is linked to the government’s poor response to their needs.
Imagine them fighting the disease for more than a year now, lamenting that their condition has been deplorable and that there has been no difference in their working conditions since the start of the pandemic in 2020. More than 14,500 medical workers have since contracted the virus to date, with fatalities at 97 and active cases at 300 plus.
AHW national president Robert Mendoza claimed that many health workers from the regions still lacked the protective gear and there is severe understaffing in public hospitals and health facilities that lead to health workers extending long hours of duty.
The demands are legit as these were set as benefits and allowances under Republic Act. No. 11469, or the “Bayanihan to Heal as One” Act. These include the P500 daily special risk allowance (SRA), compensation of P15,000 for mild cases, and P100,000 for severe cases for those who contracted COVID-19 while on duty.
Under the law that allotted P13.5 billion for health-related responses, P1 million would be given to the bereaved family of health worker martyrs who died in the line of duty, and P1 million indemnification to those who would suffer adverse side effects or death from the vaccines.
While on duty, there should be meal allowances, transportation, and accommodation for those who live in distant places so as to protect their families from being infected by them.
But all these have yet to be received by the health workers who at present are working tirelessly to respond to surging cases of COVID-19. Some 16,764 frontline health workers have yet to receive their hazard pay and risk allowance.
Why do people have to protest against their own government before they get their hard-earned benefits? Benefits for healthcare frontliners under the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act or the “Bayanihan 2” will continue to be provided even after the law expires, Senator Sonny Angara said last week.
Although Sen. Angara said so, that remains to be seen. In the meantime, our health workers who have not been duly compensated continue to treat COVID-19 patients, not inside hospitals but along the driveways.