Hospitals need ‘to stay public’

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Saturday, February 8, 2014


CEBU CITY -- Six Cebu mayors expressed support on Saturday for Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, who has cautioned the government against the privatization of public hospitals.

Pimentel has asked the Department of Health (DOH) to put on hold the privatization of the Philippine Orthopedic Center (POC) in Quezon City, saying it will deny expert medical care to poor patients and threaten hospital employees’ jobs.

In Cebu, the Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center (VSMMC) was being considered for privatization, as expressed in a House bill and by Senate President Franklin Drilon last year.

But Dr. Gerado M. Aquino Jr., the VSMMC chief, said that the bill was only meant to create a governing board as a policy-making body for the public hospital.

Aquino said the bill was not approved in the previous Congress and has not been filed again.

“The idea was not abandoned but was only put on hold,” Aquino said.

In a separate interview, Cebu Governor Hilario Davide III said that Health Secretary Enrique Ona has pledged to help Cebu upgrade its hospitals, which have yet to meet requirements of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).

ISO-certified

Additional equipment and medical personnel will be one form of support, said Davide last Friday, after his visit to the Pangasinan provincial hospitals and Department of Health (DOH) head office in Manila.

Davide said he learned that Pangasinan’s provincial hospitals are ISO-certified. “Kana para nako that’s an achievement and that should be our goal,” he added.

While the VSMMC has been retained by the DOH, 16 district hospitals in Cebu are operated by the Province.

At present, Dr. Aquino said the VSMMC has a local Executive Committee composed of seven department heads.

Mayor Democrito Diamante of Tuburan, Cebu said he opposes any move to privatize government hospitals, considering that most of his constituents are poor and can’t afford the services of private medical centers.

“If we allow privatization, what will happen to our poor people, most especially those from far-flung towns? Doing it would be anti-poor,” said Diamante, president of the League of Municipalities in the Philippines (LMP) Cebu Chapter.

City of Naga Mayor Valdemar Chiong said the poor people in the Visayas and Mindanao depend on VSMMC because they cannot afford the services of private hospitals.

Not for profit

Balamban Mayor Ace Stefan Binghay said that government hospitals should be accessible to the poor and privatizing them would deny people of essential health care services.

“A government hospital is not a business venture so that even if it’s losing, it must continue to provide services as an obligation,” Binghay said.

“Those who have less in life should be given preferential attention and care by the government. What government should do is provide additional budget and improve services,” Binghay said.

Cordova Mayor Adelino Sitoy said he agreed with Pimentel.

“The government must have its own hospital,” Sitoy said.

Medellin Mayor Ricardo Ramirez said he strongly opposes the privatization of VSMMC and other government hospitals because these are the last resort of less fortunate Filipinos.

Consolacion Mayor Teresa Alegado said that privatization of government hospital would be like stripping the poor people of their right to survive.

“The remedy is to add to the budget, hire more doctors and personnel and expand medical facilities,” Alegado said.

Bigger budget

Senator Pimentel said that the DOH is mandated by law to ensure access to basic health services. He wondered why it is pushing the privatization of a specialized hospital, without an alternative for poor patients, despite getting P84.4 billion in its budget this year.

Since the enactment of the Local Government Code of 1991, he said, the DOH budget has gone up dramatically despite the transfer of health functions and manpower to the local governments. (That law, principally written by Pimentel’s father, the former senator Aquilino Pimentel Jr., devolved health services to the local governments.)

The DOH has awarded to Megawide-World Citi Consortium the privatization of the POC for P5.69 billion. This is supposed to be intended to modernize the 700-bed hospital that serves as a center for trauma and orthopedics treatment.

But Senator Pimentel said that more than 6,000 patients, 80 percent of whom are service patients and majority not members of the Philippine Health Insurance Corp., will be displaced by the privatization scheme.

Pimentel said there is need to review the privatization policy, which he described as nothing but the sale of government assets and transfer of government functions into the hands and control of the private sector.

Observations

Meanwhile, Governor Davide said he had a chance to discuss last February 6 his observations on Pangasinan’s hospital with Secretary Ona, Provincial Board (PB) Member Peter John Calderon (who chairs the health committee), DOH Regional Director Jaime Bernadas and Provincial Health Officer Cynthia Genosolango.

“Nagsinabtanay gyud mi ni Secretary Ona, motabang gyud ang DOH nato. (Secretary Ona and I agreed that the DOH will help Cebu Province.) He agreed that health services are very important in the province,” Davide told reporters yesterday.

The governor said he will discuss with Bernadas next week the medical equipment and technical advice that Cebu’s public hospitals need.

Davide left for Pangasinan last Sunday to observe the provincial hospitals there and returned to Cebu late Thursday afternoon.

One of the hospitals he visited is Level 2 and has surgery, pediatrics and obstetrics-gynecology departments.

“Gani primary care pa gyud ta. Wa pa ta kaabot og Level 1 (In our case, our hospitals provide primary care. We haven’t even attained Level 1),” he said. Some public hospitals have operating rooms, but lack surgeons, he added.

At the start of the year, Davide’s administration stopped outsourcing doctors and medical personnel in Cebu’s 16 district hospitals. Doctors and nurses are now under contract with the Capitol for six months, while the process to hire them full-time is ongoing. (Sun.Star Cebu/With PR)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on February 09, 2014.

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