DOH to private hospitals: Admit more COVID-19 patients
A patient is brought to the Amang Rodriguez Hospital in Marikina City on March 30, 2021.
The STAR/Boy Santos, file

DOH to private hospitals: Admit more COVID-19 patients

Mayen Jaymalin (The Philippine Star) - April 19, 2021 - 12:00am

Government takeover of hotels ‘a last resort’

MANILA, Philippines — Private hospitals are mandated to expand and accommodate the soaring number of COVID-19 patients, the Department of Health said as Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire belied claims that the DOH is forcing private hospitals to expand their capacity by as much as 30 percent for coronavirus patients.

“No, there is no ‘threatening’ part there. But we have to revisit the law which says when there is a need, especially if there is an increase in the number of cases, private hospitals should be able to expand their capacity by as much as 30 (percent of their) original capacity for COVID. So, this is in the law, we are just enforcing and implementing,” Vergeire said partly in Filipino during a briefing Saturday.

She made the clarification after the Private Hospitals Association of the Philippines alleged that the DOH is forcing private medical facilities to expand despite the shortage of healthcare workers (HCWs).

Vergeire said the DOH is aware that it is not easy for private hospitals to expand bed capacity for COVID patients and that the agency is also offering to help them in getting this done.

As coronavirus cases continue to soar, she pointed out that the DOH is also intensifying efforts to expand the country’s health system.

“So, the most important thing for us now is, even though numbers will rise, to have enough health care capacity to accommodate patients, especially those who need hospital care or who need quarantine care. This is what we’re focusing on while we’re on ECQ and MECQ. We are expanding (the number of) beds, we are talking with our local governments to intensify our response,” Vergeire explained, referring to the strictest enhanced community quarantine and its modified, slightly downgraded version.

She hopes that cases will decline in the coming days and hospitals in Metro Manila will be decongested.

In a post on its Facebook page yesterday, the St. Luke’s Medical Center declared that both its hospitals in Quezon City and at BGC in Taguig City are at full capacity again for COVID cases.

“All designated COVID wards and (intensive care) units have reached full capacity with several critical patients in waiting at the emergency room. As much as we would want to accommodate all COVID-19 patients seeking treatment and care, we request those who are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and in need of immediate treatment to consider other healthcare institutions at this time,” the statement read.

The Pasay City General Hospital also reported that it already has an 82 percent occupancy rate of its COVID-confirmed wards with only three ICU beds and three regular beds remaining available.

However, it said that the emergency room is open for both COVID and non-COVID cases.

The country hurdled last Saturday the 200,000 mark after recording 203,710 active COVID-19 cases—the highest in the Southeast Asian region ever.

Last resort

Meanwhile, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles clarified that a government takeover of private facilities, although allowed under existing laws, will only be done as a last resort.

He maintained that the government remains optimistic that it can increase COVID-19 treatment and isolation centers without the need to take over the facilities.

“That (takeover) is already the last resort. That will be the last (measure to be undertaken) when necessary because we are in a state of public health emergency. But that’s really, really, really last resort,” Nograles told radio station dzBB.

Last Thursday, President Duterte said the government can take over the operations of hotels and warehouses containing medicines if the government is “pushed to the wall” but admitted that the measures are not desirable in a democratic state.

Nograles, who co-chairs the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF), said the government is now focusing on building up capacities.

“We’re confident that we’ll be able to do it. It really needs coordination with the private sector. That’s why the order for PhilHealth to already start paying is important because it will provide new capital to hospitals to increase their ICU beds and their bed capacity,” he added.

More than 3,000 beds have been added to the NCR Plus healthcare capacity during the two-week imposition of ECQ, officials have reported. The higher bed capacity has been attributed to Duterte’s order for Philippine Health Insurance Corp. to settle the unpaid claims of hospitals.

Nograles assured the public that the government is continuously working to ensure enough health personnel would be there to take care of patients.

“We’re trying to source also hospital personnel from other areas with low COVID cases temporarily, just to beef up our healthcare personnel here in NCR Plus. That being said, the hiring of healthcare personnel by the Department of Health is continuous,” he said.

Health Undersecretary Leopoldo Vega earlier noted that the government’s strategy to address the surge in COVID infections involves expanding the country’s healthcare capacity rather than shutting down the economy.

Shift to GCQ?

Nograles said that it is too early to say whether the quarantine classification of the National Capital Region (NCR) Plus can be relaxed at this time.

“We will have a discussion on what to recommend to the President in the last week of April. That being said, what do we need to do? Right now, our focus is to increase our bed capacities,” he stressed.

Soaring COVID-19 infections prompted the government to place Metro Manila and the provinces of Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal – collectively known as NCR Plus – under the strictest enhanced community quarantine from March 29 to April 11.

The classification was downgraded to the more relaxed modified enhanced community quarantine last April 12 as more hospitals agreed to allocate more beds to COVID-19 patients.

Officials have said that a shift to a more lenient general community quarantine (GCQ) – a classification where about half of industries can operate – is possible if the COVID-19 numbers improve.

“It is too early (to say whether the NCR Plus would be placed under GCQ). You know our process. The IATF makes the assessment during the last of the month to check the latest numbers and to come up with a good assessment,” Nograles said. – Alexis Romero, Ralph Edwin Villanueva

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