DOH offers P500/day to extra health frontliners
GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) - March 30, 2020 - 12:00am

The United States is direly in need of health workers experienced in COVID-19. Last Thursday, Mar. 26, it became the pandemic epicenter, with 82,174 infectees, more than any other land, surpassing China's 81,285 and Italy's 80,589. So the US State Department posted on its website and tweeted a plea to "encourage medical professionals seeking work in the US on a work or exchange visitor visa (H or J), particularly those working on #COVID-19 issues, to contact the nearest US embassy/consulate for a visa appointment." It indicated that those who were already in America on those visas should talk with their sponsors about extensions. Outrage was global against a perilous brain drain of doctors and nurses away from countries with weaker healthcare systems. US hospitals can pay top money for foreign recruits. Congress has allotted $2 trillion as anti-pandemic. Other rich states may follow suit.

The Philippines is as shorthanded. Two days before, the staff of a private hospital with branches in Quezon and Taguig Cities blasted texts to clinician-friends: "If ever may gusto mag-hospitalist sa inyo, mag-apply: We need seven more hospitalists. Following are the benefits: (1) P20,000 per 24 hours, (2) three meals a day, (3) accommodations, (4) hospital will cover if they get sick, (5) free parking, (6) shuttle, (7) laundry, (8) scrub suits (from OR)." Staffs decimated by self-quarantine but overflowing with COVID-19 and other emergency cases, other private hospitals posted enticing offers. Another QC establishment pays P6,000 per 14-hour duty.

Friday the Dept. of Health sent out a call for "Healthcare Warriors: We are looking for doctors, nurses, nurse assistants, hospital orderlies able, healthy and willing to commit to work in the fight against COVID-19.

"What will signing up involve? You will work in one of the three NCR COVID-19 referral hospitals (Lung Center, Philippine General Hospital, and Dr. Jose N. Rodriguez Memorial Hospital). On-site accommodations will be provided for your one month stint. You will undertake an eight-hour shift everyday for 14 consecutive days. Once complete, you will do a mandatory on-site quarantine for 14 days (think of it as a short holiday). This work will involve direct contact with COVID-19 patients. The hospitals will provide you with the personal protective equipment to help reduce risks of exposure. After this great contribution to your country, you may return home to your family. This voluntary position is for one month. You will be provided with accommodation and food for the entire duration. Compensation: You will be paid P500 for every day of this month-long contribution."

P20,000 or P6,000 versus P500. The starkness of the difference is incredible. P500 is the eight-hour day wage of a carpenter or plumber's assistant; a family driver gets about P18,000-P20,000 a month, plus full SSS, Philcare, and Pag-IBIG contributions. Other workers get more without nine years of medical or four years of nursing school.

Dr. Bryan Lim of Cebu posted on Facebook: "I had an emotional breakdown last night when I read this. I haven't cried that hard and that long. 500 pesos (9 US dollars) per 8 hour shift working in a facility filled with COVID confirmed cases. Working with those suits is not easy. Yesterday, I almost fainted while doing rounds. Pls I beg the national government to reconsider. These doctors are not just ordinary volunteers. They are soldiers going to war. Risking their lives each minute that they are in that facility. 500 pesos is just ... In this time of crisis, I have placed my complete trust [in] DOH. Pls do reconsider this. I love the DOH. But pls have mercy, have pity. Civil society, LGU let us help the DOH. If kulang talaga ang pera, pls contact a COVID center and help out financially. Senators, Congress sacrifice your salary and give to health workers in COVID centers. Napapagod na po ang puso ko.. Masyado na pong masakit. But still, kahit ganito, I would still volunteer. My heart can not take not caring for our patients. Many of us will offer our last breath for our fellow Filipinos. It just hurts that we are worth only that amount. It just hurts." A graduate of the University of the Philippines-College of Medicine, Lim is an infectious disease specialist and holds a master's degree in development economics, U.P.-Diliman.

For years now government has been paying teachers higher than in private schools. Its salaries for starting lawyers, technologists, and service professionals are competitive with private firms. Malacañang has just found P27 billion in savings for use in the health emergency; Congress has empowered the President to realign P275 billion from other projects. A state of calamity has been declared. State funds can be used without going through normal tough audits.

All those mean the DOH can up its offer.

Benefits and security need to be assured too. Private firms are pitching in for frontline health workers. San Miguel Corp., Century Pacific Foods, Lucio Tan Group, Ligo, Kenny Rogers, among others, deliver free food daily to dozens of hospital emergency and other wards nationwide. SM Supermalls, JG Summit Holdings' Gokongwei Brothers Foundation, Universal Robina Corp., Jollibee Foods, Lopez Group, have donated hundreds of millions of pesos for them. MVP Group, including PLDT/Smart and Meralco, and Metrobank contributed cash, alcohol, face masks, and PPEs. The Cabangon family lends free use of their hotels to Philippine General Hospital in Manila, and hospitals in Mandaluyong and Pasig.

Government agencies can match those with kindness and understanding for health workers. Unacceptable was the P5,000-fine onsite for brothers Gerald and Mark Libiran for violating the physical distancing rule by back-riding a motorcycle in Valenzuela City. They were headed home to Sta. Maria, Bulacan, when accosted at a checkpoint last Tuesday, Mar. 24. Both work as public hospital administration aides, Gerald at Philippine Orthopedic Center, Mark at National Children's Hospital, both in QC. Mark had just finished a four-day duty. Gerald, who owns the motorbike and so got the traffic citation, makes P11,000 a month. Physical distancing applies to all, the Dept. of Transportation insisted. "No uniformity of rules, no order," said Asst. Sec. Goddes Libiran (no relation to the victims). "The government's position on this matter stands."

Is that encouragement for health workers who need to go to and from work despite the Luzon lockdown?

* * *

Catch Sapol radio show, temporarily moved to Fridays, 10 a.m.-12 noon, DWIZ, (882-AM).

Gotcha archives: www.philstar.com/columns/134276/gotcha

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