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Newsmakers

PGH’s Bahay Silungan: The healer is a home

PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez - The Philippine Star
PGHâs Bahay Silungan: The healer is a home
‘Bahay Silungan,’ a historical building within the Philippine General Hospital compound that has been restored to become a nurses’ dormitory and home for transient patients.
Dr. GAP LEGASPI

A comfortable bed to lay down one’s weary body and a comforting pillow to cushion the worries of one’s mind fortify both medical frontliners and anxious patients for the next day’s battle — whether the enemy is an unseen virus or an aggressive cancer cell.

Architect Mico Manalo, Bahay Silungan benefactor Alice Eduardo and PGH medical director Dr. Gerardo Legaspi.
Photo by JOANNE RAE RAMIREZ

But sometimes, both nurses and patients have no place to take shelter under the dark skies. Some female nurses with no relatives in Metro Manila stay in cramped dorms, some transient patients and their caregivers — wanting to save on transport costs — merely sleep on flattened cardboard boxes in the hospital parking lot.

Thus, among the tasks Dr. Gerardo “Gap” Legaspi set his mind on when he became medical director of the Philippine General Hospital was to find shelter for the hardworking female nurses and the cash-strapped transient patients of the PGH.

Originally designed by architect William Parsons in 1910, it was restored by architect Mico Manalo. The building still has its original doors, sliding door mechanisms and hardwood floors.

He unearthed the old blueprints of the 114-year-old state hospital and saw that there was an existing building — built in 1910 — in the PGH compound that could be restored to provide a sturdy roof over their heads.

The building, some windows of which were already boarded up, was the old Nurses Home. It was designed by William Parsons, an architect and city planner during the early period of American colonization in the Philippines, whose works were a “hybrid” of colonial and local architecture. Alas, the dorm that Parsons built had fallen into disrepair over the years, although some parts of it were still being used by female nurses who had no other place to stay.

The restoration of the building took 10 months under Gap’s watchful eyes, and despite the delays wrought by the pandemic, it will be inaugurated soon. Subject to the UP Board of Regents’ final approval, it will be christened “Bahay Silungan” — literally, a home to take shelter in.

A place to find shelter; and a home to seek succor.

***

“The need to do this became more apparent during the COVID crisis when we needed to provide shelter for our health care workers serving our patients. That is why we needed to really push for it,” Gap told us as he proudly shared with The STAR photos of the “saved” historical building. It wasn’t just history that was being rescued from neglect — it was the very welfare of PGH’s valued health care workers. Gap felt the need “to provide better, more humane accommodations (especially) for our female staff members.” After all, they had to brave the dangers of the dark while heading home past midnight.

According to Gap, the funding for the Bahay Silungan project was jumpstarted and spearheaded with an eight-figure donation from Alice Eduardo, president and CEO of the Sta. Elena Construction and Development Corp. When Alice asked Gap how she could further help out PGH (she had earlier donated an isolation ward for children battling cancer), the latter immediately thought of this nurses dorm and the home for transient patients.

The dorm before its restoration.

“This was an extraordinary opportunity to help others,” Alice told us. “I’m taking that opportunity as a blessing.”

(Alice, however, made sure her cash donation to the project came with no strings attached, and her construction firm had no part in the building process.)

There was also additional support from TikTok Philippines. Donations were all coordinated through the PGH Medical Foundation headed by Dr. Telesforo Gana as part of their joint  “Healthcare Worker Shelter Program.”

The building is a stately beauty, a hybrid of colonial architecture and Philippine elements — just as Parsons built it. It incorporates a lot of hard wood floors, wide capiz-shell windows and iron grills.

Gap also made provisions in the building, restored by architect Mico Manalo (with concrete rendition by Andrew A De Guzman Design and Construction) for additional beds for the transient stay of patients and relatives.

 

Gap found that attending to the restoration of the building was therapeutic. Perhaps, it was like bringing a sick patient out of the ICU and into the sunshine again.

“On a personal note, supervising the construction also allowed me to have some time to take my mind off the problems of the hospital as I was really interested in the historical research and eventual restoration activities that went into this project. I enjoyed tracing the origin of its turn-of-the-century (1900s) technology and specifications and trying to approximate how it was 110 years ago,” says Gap, who trained in neurosurgery at the PGH and at the Université Paris-Sud.

Though designed with the 1900s in mind, the building is very 21st century when it comes to safety protocols.

The old Nurses dorm after it was built in 1910.

“There are already built-in health protocols for our three dorms inside the hospital compound. These are all regularly reviewed and modified as needed. Staff members undergo regular health screening, are screened by a safety officer and undergo COVID-19 testing with a very low threshold for its use,” assures Gap.

The rooms in the dorm were modernized, and will be managed by a professional. Originally, the plan was to accommodate 66 female staff members and 24 transient patients but because of the current physical distancing protocols, only half will be safely accommodated at this time in the nurses’ dorm. Gap says the transient patients’ home will not yet be operational as the COVID crisis rages and there are no out-patients in the hospital as “everything is closed,” but he is confident that Bahay Silungan will truly be a healing home for both overworked nurses and transient patients in the foreseeable future.

For the PGH nurses, modern-day heroes who used to make do with cramped rooms in the compound, Bahay Silungan promises to be a place not just to reboot at the end of a long day — or days — but a place to fortify themselves before they return to the frontlines yet again.

HEALER
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