Addressing a need
SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan (The Philippine Star) - August 3, 2018 - 12:00am

As chaos reigned last Monday at the University of the Philippines-Diliman campus, stories were posted online about students, some of them accompanied by parents or other relatives, flying from the provinces or taking long bus rides to Manila in previous years just to make sure the applications for the UP College Admission Test would be properly received.

Delivery of several government services has been devolved. More satellite offices are being set up by executive agencies all over the country. But Metro Manila remains the center of two of the most basic services: education and health care.

Universal health insurance helps, but health care facilities are simply inadequate to meet the country’s needs. There are long lines outside doctors’ offices even in the top private hospitals in Manila. And it’s not unusual for some of those in line to have come all the way from the Visayas, Mindanao and far-flung areas of Luzon.

There are ongoing efforts by the government, both national and local, to address the inadequacy. But the lack of health professionals is compounding the problem even among private health care providers. Some years ago about 100 smaller private hospitals across the country were reportedly forced to shut down or suspend operations for lack of doctors, nurses and other medical staff.

The travails of the smaller hospitals, mostly family-owned and with 50 to 100 beds, continue. At a forum earlier this year, the owners complained of delays in PhilHealth reimbursements, and of competition posed by big players as well as government hospitals. Higher “sin taxes” are being used to upgrade medical equipment and other resources in public hospitals. People of course prefer the more affordable government hospitals to the private facilities.

Over the weekend I was happy to attend an event celebrating the success story of a family-owned medical facility. It was the golden anniversary of a hospital that started as an outpatient clinic and is now the largest and most modern private hospital in Batangas, with construction starting on a new building for a cancer center.

Among the hospital’s founders is a UP-Manila alumna, Lillian Martinez, who took up nursing before the course became as popular as hot pan de sal, and trained in the UP system’s Philippine General Hospital.

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“Manay” Lillian looked hale and hearty at 93 at the 60th anniversary celebration of her life’s work, which was graced among others by Batangas Rep. Vilma Santos, Gov. Hermilando Mandanas and his charming wife Gina.

The hospital sprung from a dream Lillian nurtured with her late husband, cardiologist Vicente Magsino Sr. The dream revolved around two objectives. One was to provide health care to province mates right in Lipa. Another was to provide work to health professionals in the city and the rest of Batangas so they need not go to Manila.

They started small. In 1958 after several years of training and post-graduate studies in the US state of New Jersey, Magsino, a graduate of University of Sto. Tomas, and his wife opened an outpatient clinic in Lipa.

The public response was enthusiastic. Within two years, the clinic was moved to another site for expansion to inpatient services. Within another two years, the couple had a 16-bed facility on another site that they owned.

In 1965, the 30-bed, two-story Magsino General Hospital was inaugurated. With their growing brood, the couple also dared to dream big. After their years in the US, with two children in tow, they hoped to bring advanced medical technology to their province mates.

In 1994, the family opened the 100-bed Mary Mediatrix Medical Center on another site, with facilities for services that many still had to seek in Manila hospitals such as MRI, chemotherapy, endoscopy and dialysis.

Expansion continues; a Heart Institute was opened in 2012, providing heart bypass surgery and other interventional cardiology services. That same year, PhilHealth recognized the hospital as a Center of Excellence in Southern Tagalog.

In 2013, Mary Mediatrix received ISO 9001:2008 certification. Work also started on a medical arts building and research center, with completion targeted this year. A sleep lab is currently being added together with the cancer institute and child development center as well as a multistory parking building.

Robert Magsino, one of the two children with the couple in New Jersey in the 1950s, is now president and CEO of the 200-bed medical center.

“Senior citizen na po ang Mediatrix,” he told those who gathered to celebrate their 60 years.

Robert is a doctor of internal medicine and gastroenterology. One of his brothers, a dentist, flew in from the US for the anniversary. Some of their six other siblings are also doctors.

“For sure the diamond is not flawless,” Robert said, as he assured the large gathering at the Shangri-La Makati of continued improvements at Mary Mediatrix.

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I joined the celebration with my mom because I wanted to gain some insights into the state of public health care outside Metro Manila.

Even if universal health insurance coverage is truly achieved, herbolarios and their folk medicine will remain popular in the countryside because of the lack of access to modern health care facilities.

This is not to denigrate folk medicine; I believe there are many indigenous flora and fauna in our country whose healing properties are just waiting to be discovered and developed into modern medicine. What we need are more investments in scientific research and development.

Folk medicine, however, offers no substitutes for medical procedures such as CT scans, MRI, chemo and radiation therapy. So it’s great news that a cancer center is rising to serve Southern Tagalog.

The country needs more hospitals and schools. The services are inadequate even in Metro Manila.

That scramble for slots just for the UP entrance exam was unprecedented. But every day in many public hospitals, there are also large crowds of people waiting to be attended to, although without the bedlam that we saw in UP. There aren’t enough people and resources to meet the need.

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