Our nurses and unsung heroes

INTROSPECTIVE - Tony F. Katigbak (The Philippine Star) - August 26, 2020 - 12:00am

Four years ago, I wrote about how our nurses, and our healthcare system, in general, needed more government support. I wrote that I hoped President Duterte would look closely at the healthcare system as he came into the presidency because even back then we had failed to meet the Millennium Development Goals in terms of healthcare, and if we didn’t move we’d go on to miss the mark on the Sustainable Development Goals too.

It’s not because we don’t have the talent or technology. We do. I truly believe we have some of the best talents out there. The problem is we don’t nurture and sustain that talent, and the consequence is they end up leaving the country.

This is understandable. After all, nursing and medicine is not an easy discipline. These men and women work extremely hard to become professionals in the medical field and when they are finally able to work they want to be able to earn a decent living to reward them for the effort and help them take care of their families.

Jobs that could offer a salary that would allow them this were not always available in the Philippines. Nurses here make very little compared to what they can potentially earn abroad. That is why the exodus of nurses and healthcare providers continues and we lose our professionals to institutions abroad. From there, Filipino nurses and doctors can earn more and take better care of themselves and those they love. After all, these modern-day heroes are on the frontlines. They are integral to the healthcare system and care for patients carefully day in and day out.

This is even more so now during this unprecedented global pandemic. Nurses and doctors are on the frontlines of a battle only they can fight. All we can do to help is to follow safety protocols, stay home, and – in any way possible – compensate them properly. It’s understandable now that the economy is suffering that the government may not be able to give them the wage hike they deserve, but the least we can do is provide proper calamity pay and ensure that they receive it.

I read recently about the heartbreaking news of a nurse who fulfilled her duty and did her job, caring for people during the pandemic because she believed in her vocation. As dangerous as it was to her, and with daughters of her own to think of, she still soldiered on, and sadly succumbed to the disease – passing away before the positive results of her swab test returned. What’s worse, while this poor nurse was expecting roughly P30,000 in hazard pay (P500 a day as was publicized), her family only received roughly over P7,000, whittling her hazard pay down from P500 a day to just P60 a day. She wasn’t even able to receive this before her passing.

This story is not unique. Everywhere nurses are having difficulty collecting the promised hazard pay and battling in backbreaking dangerous conditions every day. Is it any wonder that they are tired, scared, and burned out? Is putting their life on the line worth it for a mere pittance that they, or worse their families would receive in case of the worst? How can we expect them to keep fighting under these conditions?

Is it any wonder that, at this point, only 25 percent of the nurses who were stopped from leaving the country for deployment abroad signed up for the Department of Health’s emergency hiring program. Because of such a low turnout, the DOH secretary has had to reiterate his call for nurses to sign up. He appealed to their sense of nationalism and patriotism. While that sounds good on paper, it’s understandable why this alone isn’t enticing to them. After all, nationalism won’t keep them safe or put food on their family’s tables.

Additionally, many of these nurses who were stopped from leaving are also dealing with the fact that they were prevented from working abroad. Some of them already had contracts and sold properties, or went into debt securing enough to be able to travel to their new place of employment. It must have been quite frustrating and disheartening to not be able to go.

At the end of the day, we need the support of our nurses. We need to bolster the healthcare system in every way we can. It’s being pushed to the extreme and so many hospitals and healthcare centers are no longer able to handle the load. However, this does not mean that we don’t have to be fair to our healthcare professionals. They are already putting so much on the line just to fight this battle for us, the least we can do is help them financially provide for the families and loved ones. We need to make this a priority as we face the ongoing challenge of this pandemic.

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