Nurses' union calls for mass hiring as Cebu City grapples with COVID-19

Nurses' union calls for mass hiring as Cebu City grapples with COVID-19
The National Kidney and Transplant Institute sets up a tent which was converted into a receiving area for medical workers to screen possible COVID-19 patients in Quezon City on April 2, 2020.
The STAR / Miguel de Guzman

MANILA, Philippines — There are enough nurses in the Philippines to help meet health care demands during the COVID-19 pandemic, a nurses' group said, as it reiterated the call for mass hiring — with adequate salaries, benefits, and protection.

Filipino Nurses United issued the statement Sunday as medical workers in Cebu City struggle to treat COVID-19 cases.

The Cebu Medical Society, in a June 16 statement, described the situation in the 'Queen City of the South' thus: "Hopsitals are overwhelmed and undermanned, essential medical equipment are scarce, doctors and nurses are getting sick and are burnt out."

FNU said Sunday: "Time is of the essence! Immediate mass hiring of nurses with minimum entry salary of P32,000, just benefits including hazard pay, adequate personal protective equipment, and safe nurse to patient workload are critical solutions to augment the severe understaffing of nurses who will help save lives against COVID-19."

It said it made a similar call in March "but sadly, the Department of Health (DOH) responded with a call for volunteer health warriors with an allowance of P500 a day."

FROM THE FREEMAN: Private hospitals called: Hike nurses’ wages, too

In April, the Department of Budget and Management approved a DOH request "for the engagement of an additional 15,757 healthcare professionals under contract of service for a period of three months."

FNU said it had received a report that government nurses in Cebu have not received hazard pay for two months. It said that, according to the nurse they talked to "the DOH Regional Health Human Resource Unit said 'budget allotted for it is not yet available and hazard pay is applicable only during Enhanced Community Quarantine

"Likewise, they have not yet received other mandated benefits under the DOH Department Memorandum No. 2020-0153 on 'Interim Guidelines for Emergency hiring' issued last April 12, 2020 such as transportation and communication allowances and the P100K compensation 'in case of COVID-19 infirmity'," FNU also said.

The Supreme Court ruled in 2019 that nurses should be paid at Salary Grade 15, saying an Arroyo administration putting the entry-level salary at SG 11 cannot supercede the Philippine Nursing Act that set the minimum salary grade for nurses.

A state worker at Salary Grade 15 can earn as much as P31,545, while those at Salary Grade 11 can receive as much as P22,055.

The court said, however, that it could not order a salary increase since that would be up to Congress, which crafts the national budget bill for each year.

READ: Congress implements SC ruling on higher nurses’ pay

"It is high time that the government heeds the call of nurses to immediately release the budget for wage increase of government nurses. The fact that our country is still under the state of national health emergency, the government should mandate the private sector to provide its nurses with minimum basic salary of P32,000 by
enacting two important House Bills: House Bill 3478 on the Minimum Basic Salary of Nurses and House Bill 5184 or the Magna Carta of Private Health Workers," it said.

"Immediate enactment of the said proposed bills would entice nurses to join the health workforce in serving its countrymen especially in this COVID-19 pandemic," the group also said.

Aside from overworked medical staff, Cebu hospitals have run out of beds for COVID-19 patients.

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