“Hindi kami robot, kami’y mga tao. Buhay po itong pinag-uusapan natin. Kami ay may mga pamilya. Kami ay handang magbigay ng serbisyo pero kami ay hindi binibigyan ng pagpapahalaga”, Cristy Donguines, President of Jose Reyes Memorial Medical Center Employees Union said.
[We are not robots, we are people. Lives are at stake. We have families. We are ready to render service, but we are not being given importance.]
Alliance of Health Workers with hospital unions and medical students held a virtual press conference last January 11 to denounce the Department of Health (DOH) Circular 2022-002, calling it “inhumane, unjust, illogical, and misleading” to both health workers and the public.
The DOH move to shorten the previous 7-14 days to 5-10 days quarantine period of fully vaccinated healthcare workers who tested positive for COVID-19 or even those who had close contacts is based on the IATF’s guidelines.
The group also revealed that some HCWs who got infected with COVID-19 but do not manifest symptoms (or asymptomatic cases) are forced to report on duty due to a shortage in manpower in different hospitals, as COVID cases continue to rise because of the spread the Omicron variant.
In the virtual press conference, health workers from various groups and unions as well as students from the medical field slammed the Duterte administration for its refusal to recognize the importance of their safety and welfare.
They stressed that health workers, being at the forefront of service during the pandemic, have long been suffering from the government’s lack of comprehensive response to the worsening health crisis.
DOH’s shortened quarantine period condemned
“Ang palpak na solusyon ng gobyerno para solusyonan ang kakulangan sa manggagawang pangkalusugan na naka-duty ay paikliin ang quarantine o isolation period o hindi kaya ang mga walang sintomas ay maaaring magduty. Tinitignan ba ng pamahalaan bilang robot o makina ang mga manggagawa nating pangkalusugan? May balak ba talaga ang pamahalaan na sugpuin ang COVID-19?” National President of the Alliance of Health Workers Robert Mendoza said.
[The failed solution of the government to address the shortage in health care workers on duty is to shorten the quarantine or isolation period or allow the asymptomatic cases to go on duty. Do they think that health workers as robots? Does the government really plan to stop COVID-19?]
In a memorandum circular that they released last January 6, DOH authorized the hospitals to implement shortened isolation period for fully vaccinated healthcare workers who tested positive for COVID-19 up to five days from the date of the test or symptom onset following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Interim Guidance for Managing Healthcare Personnel with SARS-Cov-2[MOU2].
This protocol is a contingency measure that aims to shorten the duration of isolation and quarantine period of fully-vaccinated health workers who are infected and exposed with the virus to sustain the healthcare capacity of the country.
But according to the CDC, the Omicron variant, which is more transmissible than the previous Delta variant, is more contagious within three to five days after its incubation period or after the patient showed symptoms.
“Chaotic ang pandemic response ng gobyerno dahil hanggang ngayon, wala pa ding linaw kung ano ang dapat gawin ng ating gobyerno, ng Department of Health, para matugunan ang pangangailangan at problema ng mga mamamayan especially ng mga manggagawang pangkalusugan.” National Treasurer of Filipino Nurses United Jaymmee De Guzman said.
[The government’s pandemic response is chaotic because until now, it is not clear what the government, the DOH should do to respond to the needs and woes of the people, especially health workers.]
HCWs criticize the government’s inaction on hospital understaffing, lack of mass testing
Understaffing is one of the long-running problems of healthcare facilities in the country which puts health workers in poor working conditions. This shortage in manpower has also compromised patient care, particularly now that an upsurge of COVID-19 cases is happening and a huge percentage of medical frontliners are getting sick. With this, health workers insist on the urgent need for mass hiring.
“Dapat po ay maghire ang gobyerno at dagdagan ng mga plantilla positions ang ating mga ospital nang sa gayon ay matugunan itong understaffing sa ating mga ospital,” Karen Faurillo, President of All UP Workers Union Manila said.
[The government should hire and add plantilla positions in our hospitals to address the understaffing iin hospitals.]
Faurillo emphasized that they have been calling for the government to solve the understaffing in hospitals for a long time, but the nurse-to-patient ratio remains the same.
Mendoza also reiterated the call for mass testing which the government has been dismissive about since the onset of the pandemic.
Despite the increasing amount of the country’s debts, the government still can’t provide for the need for mass testing, even stating that it is “irrational”.
“Talaga namang tinitipid din tayo ng ating gobyerno kasi alam natin na nananawagan tayo matagal na for free mass testing. Pero hanggang sa kasalukuyan, ang sagot pa rin ng ating gobyerno, si Secretary [Francisco] Duque, sinasabi pa rin niya [na] mahal at hindi kakayanin,” Mendoza lamented.
[The government is shortchanging us and stingy when it comes to free mass testing. But until now, the government’s answer, Health Secretary Duque is still saying it is expensive and it can’t be done.]
Cost of RT-PCR tests range from P2,400 to 2,800 in government laboratories and P3,400 to 4,000 in private laboratories.
Alongside the calls for mass hiring and mass testing, health workers also emphasized their demand for urgent regularization of contractual health workers, free, regular, and mandatory RT-PCR testing to all health workers, sufficient and quality supplies of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and urgent release of meals, transportation, and accommodation allowances, special risk allowances, and adequate compensation for all health workers.
Mendoza highlighted the importance of collective action in forwarding the calls of the health workers.
“Dahil hindi tayo pumapayag na may ganyang mga pambubusabos sa mga health workers po natin, kaya kailangan pa rin nating magkaroon ng mga kilos-protesta,” he affirmed.
[Because we protest these indignities against health workers, that’s why we need to hold more protests.]
Cases surge among health workers of major COVID-19 hospitals
Donguines said more than 200 healthcare workers, almost 70 from the nursing department of the Jose Reyes Memorial Medical Center, have tested positive for COVID-19.
In addition, 198 healthcare workers from National Children’s Hospital also tested positive.
At San Lazaro Hospital, 66 out of 127 healthcare workers are from nursing service, De Guzman said.
According to Faurillo, at Philippine General Hospital, 201 new infections among their healthcare workers were detected last January 1; almost 86 new infections were added this week.
Clinical clerks and interns were also affected by the surge of cases.
Lala Aquino, a member of the Philippine Medical Student Association, shared that in their recent consultation with 31 medical schools in the country, 75 out of 1193 clerks and 176 out of 1385 interns tested positive, while some are still in quarantine.
On January 11, 2022, the DOH reported 28,007 new cases, breaching the 3-million mark of the total COVID-19 cases in the country.