'Very basic' hospital command center setup leaves it unreachable amid COVID-19 surge

Xave Gregorio - Philstar.com
'Very basic' hospital command center setup leaves it unreachable amid COVID-19 surge
A sign is placed at the emergency entrance of the Makati Medical Center in Makati City as the private hospital reaches full capacity for the COVID-19 cases on Sunday, March 14, 2021.
The STAR / Miguel de Guzman, file

MANILA, Philippines —A command center created to refer COVID-19 patients to hospitals has apparently been unreachable at times during the current surge in cases due to its “very basic” setup.

Department of Health Undersecretary Leopoldo Vega said the hotline of the One Hospital Command Center is sometimes unreachable because it does not have a call forwarding feature that would have enabled its small pool of 30 agents to simultaneously cater to calls that have exponentially grown from just 70 calls a day to 388 calls per day.

"We don’t have any kind of forward calls towards other units because our setup is very basic," Vega, who heads the command center, told a congressional inquiry on Tuesday.

“Once you call the Globe or PLDT number, if it keeps on ringing, it means the agent is engaged,” said Vega, who also serves as the government’s treatment czar. “So we are trying to improve this by making sure we have more landlines and a PBX (private branch exchange) system to have call forwarding.”

Rep. Stella Luz Quimbo (Marikina) called this a “very lame excuse,” before turning to Health Secretary Francisco Duque III to ask what she should do if she were a COVID-19 patient needing hospitalization.

Duque could not provide a clear answer and only said that patients must listen to their doctor’s advice if they should opt for alternatives to hospitalization, like availing of medical services at their homes.

“Mayroon naman po kayong doktor (You have a doctor,) so the professional advice of the doctor must be heeded. You can discuss that with the physician,” he said.

Many Filipinos do not have personal doctors and the One Hospital Command Center is supposed to be a healthcare referral network to connect possible COVID-19 patients with "service providers such as hospitals, quarantine facilities, and medical transportation," according to a September 2020 Department of Health press release.

Improvements incoming?

Duque and Vega assured that they are working to expand the capacity of the One Hospital Command, which was launched to monitor hospital occupancy and smoothen the referral of COVID-19 patients.

Vega said they are making sure that they have the necessary IT staff and call center agents to keep the command center responsive, and that they have coordinated with PLDT for “more sophisticated” communications.

“We are going to respond in a better way by improving the capacity of the one hospital command because the objective is very clear that we need to have coordinated care and referral for all COVID and even non-COVID patients,” he said.

Command center vision

The command center was opened in August 2020, when the country was also facing a surge of COVID-19 cases and medical facilities were reporting that they were getting overwhelmed and running out of beds for coronavirus patients.

COVID-19 response chief implementer Carlito Galvez Jr. then said that the command center will ease the coordination and referral of patients across health facilities and ensure there are enough hospital beds for severe and moderate coronavirus cases.

Those needing help with treating or isolating a COVID-19 patient may reach the command through hotlines 0919-977-3333, 0915-777-7777 and (02) 886 505 00 or download the PureForce Citizens App and send a report through it.


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