Pampanga hospital fights to survive pandemic | Inquirer News

Pampanga hospital fights to survive pandemic

/ 05:15 AM November 14, 2021

Sacred Heart Medical Center in Pampanga (Photo by TONETTE OREJAS / Inquirer Central Luzon)

ANGELES CITY, Pampanga, Philippines — “It is certainly no joke managing a hospital during this pandemic.”

Take that as a revelation from Dr. Aurelia Aurelia Villaraza, Villaraza, medical director of Sacred Heart Medical Center (SHMC) here, when she was asked how private hospitals are struggling to survive amid the COVID-19 pandemic.


Villaraza, Ollie to her colleagues, said she took the task of leading by staying calm and consulting with her team, especially during the first days of the lockdown in March 2020.

“While we still could, I called for frequent meetings with senior and junior hospital officials and our infectious disease specialists led by doctors Edwin Pasumbal, Armin Masbang, and Francesca Mae Pantig,” she told the Inquirer Inquirer in response to a recent email inquiry.


She said the meetings were aimed at formulating their own policies, guidelines, and protocols to safeguard the welfare of their medical staff, personnel, patients and everyone else entering the hospital. She also met with local officials to coordinate responses.

At first, SHMC catered to non-COVID patients and eventually complied with a Department of Health order to set aside 20 to 30 percent of its 75 beds for those fallen ill by the virus.

“Together with our committees on occupational safety and health, and infection prevention and control, we created COVID-19 teams that took turns in ‘risking their lives’ as they consented to render the quality of health care that suspected, probable, and confirmed COVID-19 patients expected and deserved,” said Villaraza, who specializes in endocrinology.

FRONTLINERS: Dr. Aurelia Villaraza (right), medical director of SHMC, cites the planning and unity of her team in overcoming the arduous task of safeguarding the welfare of hospital staff and their patients. —CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Special Care Unit

In place of the scary phrase “COVID ward,” SHMC uses Special Care Unit(SCU) to refer to this area where patients are taken care of.

Neuropsychiatrist Romeo Enriquez helped by sharing how front-liners could develop emotional resilience. Pulmonary specialist Isser Sugay was appointed coordinator of SCU.

Villaraza felt “bombarded” with guidelines from government agencies on swab tests, quarantine requirements and contact tracing of people exposed to COVID-19 patients.

“Honestly speaking, there were times when we got confused because the guidelines kept changing, the policymakers failed to specify policies relevant to private versus public hospitals and companies, and there was redundancy in the voluminous memoranda [in small fonts that needed a magnifying glass to read],” she said.


But Villaraza said the Filipino culture of caring and sharing helped ease the burden of medical front-liners and patients.


SHMC, she admitted, suffered financial losses but none of its doctors or nurses had died from the virus.

“Afraid of being exposed to COVID-19 patients and infecting their families, doctors stopped holding clinics, accepting admissions or referrals, or scheduling patients for elective surgery unless they can present recent negative swab test results,” she said.

Hospital personnel, on the other hand, were compelled by their families to resign.

“Admissions had to be limited, based on availability of manpower, so as not to sacrifice the quality of health care,” Villaraza pointed out.

Income losses, she emphasized, were “aggravated” by the failure of Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) to pay SHMC P158 million.

Salaries raised

Villaraza rued: “Yet every month, we pay employees’ salaries, overhead expenses (electricity, water, maintenance, etc.), advance the payment of purchased medicines and supplies provided to patients and provide hospital benefits to employees admitted or quarantined because of exposure to the virus.”

Despite the losses, SHMC raised salaries and benefits to be able to retain or attract nurses and other employees.

To Villaraza, the pandemic is a “nightmare that we all wish to wake up from.”

But that, she believed, also required honesty from patients about symptoms of infection.

SHMC, she said, remains committed to pursue the legacy envisioned by its founder, the late Tan Song Bok, to provide healthcare services to the community.

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TAGS: COVID-19 pandemic, Sacred Heart Medical Center in Angeles City
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