Our nation has entered the latter half of the year 2020 and still, the battle against COVID-19 goes on. The local health community, quick to strategize and respond despite the many uncertainties and gaps, is anticipating that dealing with this phenomenon will be the reality for a prolonged period of time. 

Last August 20, 2020, the Institute for Solidarity in Asia (ISA) continued its #ISAngKilosBayan Advocacy Series segment focusing on the public health sector and how they are coping, learning, and rebuilding through this crisis. In partnership with Philstar.com, ISA gathered hospital leaders from Baguio General Hospital and Medical Center, Batangas Medical Center, Mariano Marcos Memorial Hospital and Medical Center, and Bataan General Hospital and Medical Center, and opened the floor for the discussion of experiences from the Luzon frontlines. 

Different contexts

Webinar moderator Dr. Maria Linda G. Buhat, President of the Association of Nursing Service Administrators of the Philippines (ANSAP), initiated the conversation among the hospital leaders, who each shared their different contexts when COVID-19 first blew up. 

Batangas Medical Center (BMC) Medical Center Chief II Dr. Ramoncito Magnaye recalled how the people of Batangas were still reeling from the Taal Volcano disaster when the COVID-19 crisis followed shortly after. 

“It was really a double incident for us in Batangas,” said Dr. Magnaye. “We started to respond by coming up with a Core Group headed by [the] ExeCom to really plan out our response.”

Over at Bataan General Hospital and Medical Center (BatGHMC), their most grueling day yet arrived when many of their health workers reporting for duty turned out to be COVID-positive despite not showing any symptoms. 

“The journey was difficult because, how were [we] going to lock down the whole hospital? There were 214 patients with their watchers, plus there were about 300 employees who were already there,” recounted Dr. Baltazar. 

Through efficient coordination and fast action, however, BatGHMC was able to isolate and care for their staff while still catering to patients.

Meanwhile, for Baguio General Hospital and Medical Center (BagGHMC), the biggest challenge at the onset was handling the influx of specimens coming from Northern Luzon. Being the only subnational laboratory for COVID testing in the Cordillera region, BagGHMC faced a demand to fast-track the testing process in order to contain the spread of the virus. The difficulty, however, was that they had very few medical technologists trained to do the testing at that time. 

From the pain points

From these pain points came the solutions that equipped the hospitals with adequate capabilities to respond to the pandemic. One enabler was the instinct to immediately craft a clear, comprehensive strategy for the hospitals.

In BagGHMC’s case, they efficiently created a clinical pathway for COVID management and shared the guidelines among different health service facilities in the city and the Cordillera region. 

For BMC, the Infection Prevention and Control Committee spearheaded the strategizing and created specialized committees that would deal with specific concerns such as space, manpower, logistics, and coordination with other institutions. 

Another enabler of the hospitals’ crisis response had been the engagement within the institution and with the rest of the community. 

Medical Center Chief II Dr. Maria Lourdez Otayza of Mariano Marcos Memorial Hospital and Medical Center (MMMHMC) recalled how active community engagements provided them with supplies of coveralls, as personal contacts began tapping out-of-work tailors in the area. 

Similarly, the efforts of the local government units paired with the contributions of the Multi-sectoral Governance Council (MSGC) was the cause for the outpour of support for the BagGHMC and BatGHMC frontlines.

BagGHMC Public Health Unit Head Dr. Leamor Fangonilo narrated how the struggle of the past few months have been mitigated because of “the very good collaboration with the community especially with the LGU [and] the MSGC.”

BatGHMC’s Dr. Baltazar echoed this sentiment, sharing how their “MSGC [has been] very active. They were the ones who responded immediately in providing us PPEs, food, and other important resources.” 

The way forward

With the pandemic expected to stretch on for the next few months, one emerging concern for hospitals is how they can sustain the capability of the institution as well as the morale of its people.

“Duplicating the services is not easy, especially [since] all the staff should be trained and the aptitude of different people varies,” said MMMHMC’s Dr. Otayza. She then underscored the need for info-dissemination in order to capacitate their staff. 

Within their hospital, MMMHMC also made sure that psycho-social and even legal support for the health workers are readily available when they need it. Recently, they also brought back the small routines such as General Assemblies through virtual means in order to boost the morale of the staff.

“It has been difficult, but the community has been very good to us and the least we can do is continue in serving this community,” said Dr. Otayza. 

Moving forward, new operating procedures are emerging for hospitals in line with the precautions demanded by COVID-19. 

With this, the hospital leaders look towards stronger coordination with the local government units and other healthcare facilities in order to fortify the shared response plan. Specifically, they talked of supporting the establishment of the One Hospital Command Center (OHCC) and of pursuing Universal Healthcare in order to strengthen the healthcare provider network, capacitate lower level medical facilities, and maximize the services of higher level institutions. 

Ultimately, per BagGHMC’s Dr. Fangonilo, “We should continue to innovate. Let’s bring out the resilient Filipino in us. Let’s continue to work together. We work as one, we learn as one and we heal as one.”

View the full webinar episode on our Facebook page.

Catch the final installment of the health sector segment of the #ISAngKilosBayan Advocacy Series on September 25, 2020. Register now via: bit.ly/SulongNCRReg