Thursday, September 23, 2021

EXPLAINER: Nurses quitting Cebu City-owned hospital: extent of the problem on delayed salaries, which City Hall office fumbled.

Photos from Facebook pages of CCMC and Cebu City Councilors Raymond Garcia and Alvin Dizon

THE SITUATION, BRIEFLY. [1] A July 26 news report said Yvonne Canla, Cebu City Medical Center administrator, disclosed that "several nurses" resigned from the city-government-owned hospital and more might follow because they have not been paid in the past four months.

[2] Similar news broke out in June and July last year among the hospitals in Cebu: about nurses quitting, planning or threatening to quit over increased workload, fear of being infected, and/or being shunned in their neighborhood. The Cebu chapter of Philippine Nurses Association confirmed at the time that some nurses did resign or go absent without leave.

[3] As in the 2020 case, this week's incident did not cite the number of nurses who left or wanting to leave, thus not giving the public the extent of the problem. But unlike last year's, the feared run affects only the city-government-run city hospital. Or maybe because CCMC is government-run, more people expressed interest than if it happened in a private hospital.

WHAT WE KNOW. [1] The nurses who left are job-order nurses. CCMC reportedly hired at least 10 of them to increase its health-care personnel. Hospital officials would not say how much their leaving could affect CCMC's service.

[2] Acting Mayor Michael Rama said the nurses' pay is covered by Supplemental Budget #1. City Administrator Floro Casas Jr. told SunStar it is part of SB 1, which was "submitted to the City Council months ago... until now, not yet approved or disapproved."

Another City Hall source was a bit more specific. It could be part of a P4.93 million allocation for barangay health workers and, maybe, the job-order nurses, he said. The extra budget totals P4.5 billion, with P1.2 billion set aside for the loan balance of the South Road Properties project.

The City Council just concluded budget hearings and the committee report was transmitted Friday, July 23. The Sanggunian will discuss it Wednesday, July 28.

IN SANGGUNIAN HANDS. No one is categorically blaming the city legislature but the city's top officials both say the salary of the nurses, which reportedly caused the resignations, is in the hands of the City Council. Acting Mayor Rama said he already looked into it: it is "solvable." "Naa na sa SB 1. Naa na sa Sanggunian." C.A. Casas said they submitted it months ago and has not yet acted upon, favorably or not.

Mike Rama, as vice mayor, had the chance to speed it up, since, months ago, while getting ready for the mayor's inability to serve, he was largely the City Council presiding officer. And Atty. Casas, as city administrator or manager, has among his jobs the duty to push for legislative measures needed by the mayor's office.

Partido Barug, the mayor's party, dominates the City Council. The majority floor leader, Councilor Raymond Alvin Garcia, is also chairman of the committee on finance.

MINORITY PRODDING. Councilor Alvin Dizon, who belongs to the minority BOPK, told SunStar they had called the attention of the executive department several times to avoid "undue delay in the payment of wages or salaries of City Hall employees." "Our employees, especially our nurses and medical frontliners don't deserve to suffer unreasonable delay, with extreme poverty on the rise amid the pandemic."

He said it would be "OK" for some delay in the salary of elected officials but not the ordinary wage-earner ("gamay na ang suweldo, dugay pa gyod").

Reports of delayed salaries have long bugged the Labella administration since July 2019 but those were blamed at first on its being new in the business ("still getting used to it"), but later, on lack of people who didn't know the ropes and couldn't learn fast enough. If the problem had not raised an uproar earlier, it must have been due to the kind of people affected: mostly supporters of politicians who helped them win in 2019. This time, it's nurses who were hired for their training and the valuable work they're doing.

CONTROVERSY-TIED ITEMS. The budget item for job-order nurses is just a small part of SB 1. Included in the extra budget is one disputed allocation or another, such as the additional P100 million, on top of an earlier P420 million, sought for garbage collection this year, involving a service ridden with a number of suspected irregularities.

It takes longer to approve a money request that's entangled in controversy. Generally, Garcia's committee has been known to act quickly on money bills related to Covid-19 response. A big evidence of that is the P2.5-billion cash, allocated in three or four tranches since the start of the pandemic 18 months ago, and handed to the executive department on a platter, served and consumed.


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